Spring Training is often a time for optimism. Players have rested tired and sore muscles, recovered from nagging injuries, and had any surgeries they needed. Generally speaking, the day pitchers and catchers report may be the healthiest a team is all year. Players and coaches are often the most optimistic of the bunch, and rightly so. In a game built around so much failure, you often need a fairly large dose of confidence in your ability to play at a high level. Fringe players on the roster don't look at themselves as Quad-A replacement players, but as a Spring Training of hard work, and a chance to prove themselves, away from being a regular contributor. It's not a surprise that players and coaches go into Spring Training seeing the things that can go right and recognizing all the potential in this annual rebirth of hope and optimism. Terry Collins has been speaking highly of a lot of his players this season, and maybe there is actually some potential there to dream on.
Fans, and often the media covering the team, often think differently. This is particularly true on this Mets team that didn't make a whole lot of obvious improvement in the offseason after a losing season. The Mets didn't sign any big players, although Shaun Marcum was ranked 19th of MLB Trade Rumor's top 50 free agents. They traded away their best pitcher. Despite being linked to outfielders, and everyone knowing that the outfield was their weak spot, they didn't sign any really good outfielders. Mets fans everywhere are taking a look at the team and then peering over the fence to admire other teams' lawns.
"Look at what Atlanta has!"
"Must be nice to be a Nationals fan!"
"How can the Mets compete when they have to face Halladay, Hamels, and Lee all the time?"
It's worth spending a little time taking a look at what's growing on this side of the fence, because it's not all weeds. The outfield draws the most ire, but Lucas Duda's 898 plate appearances will lead the starters in major league experience, and that's only about a season and a half worth of time. These guys have only just begun to sprout and already they're being dismissed. Nobody's going to be as bad as Jason Bay this year, and that's already a big improvement. I'm not expecting any of these guys to become breakout stars, though I've thought Duda could get himself on an All-Star roster with a strong first half that demonstrates monstrous power. All-Star selection isn't always indicative of being one of the best players in the league, but I think Duda can garner some attention, especially when defense doesn't seem to be a big part of becoming an All-Star. Mike Baxter was a rookie last year and had a very good showing. Going off of last year's numbers, replacing 200 Jason Bay plate appearances with 200 Mike Baxter ones would be a two fWAR swing. Kirk Nieuwenhuis struck out constantly, but he showed some potential at times too. I don't think it's fair to write these guys off after half of a rookie season. They might even be the third best outfield in the division, depending on how much ground Giancarlo Stanton can make up over the rest of his outfield. It's far-fetched to think they'll look good next to the Nationals or the Braves but that doesn't mean they're completely worthless.
The infield certainly isn't a disaster on the Mets side of the fence either. David Wright is amazing, and Ike Davis showed a lot in the second half last year. If his horrible start was in fact a symptom of missing most of a year and fatigue related to medical issues that are now resolved maybe we can dream big on Davis. Having two really solid batters in the lineup is a real good foundation for an offense. Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy may not be offensive juggernauts, but they contribute positively to the team and Tejada is still young enough that you might expect some improvement in his overall game. I'm going to mention David Wright again, because he's the Mets best player and deserves that. He's going to end up as the Mets best position player in franchise history, and has been one of the few things to look forward to when watching the Mets the last couple of years.
The pitching is not only not bad, it's actually pretty good despite trading R.A. Dickey. The starting staff is healthy to start the year and the worst pitcher of the five is arguably Dillon Gee, who posted a 4.10 ERA last season after making improvements in both his strikeout and walk rate. Like all pitching staffs, health and injury are a concern. Shaun Marcum did miss some time last year in the middle of the year with arm pain. Johan Santana hasn't finished a Mets season healthy yet. Still, if there is one spot on the Mets lawn that's greener than anywhere else, it's the rotation and the Mets have perhaps one of the best pitching prospects in the league waiting to be promoted should one of them falter. Jon Niese is a good young pitcher with a very team-friendly contract. Matt Harvey is a big hard-throwing young pitcher that was exciting to watch in his debut last year. Traditionally the Mets have done their best with a good pitching staff, and this one could be very very exciting to watch.
Travis d'Arnaud and Zack Wheeler are the other side of the coin. Most Mets fans expect them to be stars and it's just a matter of when they bloom. I don't expect them to be our version of Buster Posey, who came up in 2010 as a rookie and helped get the San Francisco Giants a World Series ring, but for a team that's been making a habit of having a bad second half, it'll be nice to be adding talented rookies to the mix that could perhaps keep that from happening. There's plenty of green grass on this side of the fence to get excited about, and it only looks to be getting better.