Spring training is here and that means it's time for us to begin looking ahead to our much anticipated annual King of Spring Training race! Since 2011, we've given the King of Spring Training to the hitter who turns the most heads in Mets camp. That's right, the KOST must be a position player. Sorry, those are the rules! These are the previous winners of the award:
2011: Scott Hairston
2012: Lucas Duda (we even gave him a crown!)
2013: Collin Cowgill
2014: Zach Lutz
2015: John Mayberry Jr.
The field for this award is always filled with plenty of names and they're often far down the depth chart, either the bench veterans, the young guys looking to make an impression, or the non-roster invitees. Unfortunately, a lot of the Mets' depth in this area has been purged in the past few months as the team has gotten better. Not to worry, though, there are still a number of quality options for this incredibly important honor.
So who will be the best Mets player at meaningless baseball in 2016? Let's look at the pre-spring favorites:
A preseason favorite heading into last year's KOST competition, Campbell returns once again locked into the #1 spot. Campbell burst onto the KOST scene in 2014 with a .304/.373/.500 line that really got people talking. Campbell's spring in 2015 disappointed in comparison to the expectations, as he hit .246/.358/.491 with 6 doubles, a triple, and a pair of dingers. Soup also hit crappily in an extended trial during the regular season in 2015 but that doesn't matter here. Campbell's a contender for this award, no doubt.
Our preseason dark horse candidate last season due to his overwhelming spring training success in the Giants organization the past few years, Monell burst onto the 2015 KOST scene with an early 3-run home run and made a run at the title. All in all, he hit .340/.377/.640 with 4 home runs last spring and his career .348/.400/.598 spring training line in 92 at bats makes him a real threat to pull the 2016 award out. With perpetual spring training darling and "Ass of MLB" Anthony Recker out of the picture, Monell will likely get plenty of at bats to shine behind Travis d'Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki.
The Mets' 2012 2nd round pick, Reynolds made a splash last spring in his first extended look in big league camp. After going 2-3 in 2013 and 4-12 in 2014, Reynolds hit a robust .375/.404/.583 with 4 doubles and a pair of home runs, one of them a walk-off, and easily could've challenged for the crown with more at bats. Now a member of the team's 40-man roster, Reynolds has a chance to get the at bats needed to be a true challenger, though he may have to do early damage in split squad games – he'll have to fight a crowded infield situation with Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada, Gavin Cecchini, and Dilson Herrera looking for at bats slotted behind MLB starters Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker.
Much like Reynolds, Muno had a nice spring training in 2015 but just didn't receive enough at bats to outdo the competition in front of him. Spring cameos of 2-4 in 2012, 0-2 in 2013, and 2-14 in 2014 clearly gave Muno useful experience, as he hit a strong .327/.426/.442 with a double, a triple, and a home run in 2015. Unfortunately, Muno's plight in 2016 is similar to Reynolds, who will have to fight off a whole bunch of competition in front of him on the infield to get at bats. Furthermore, Muno lost his 40-man roster spot which places him behind Reynolds on the pecking order. In his defense, Muno has shown he can play an adequate 3rd base, which should help him steal some at bats.
Alejandro De Aza
The Mets' new fifth outfielder claims the John Mayberry role in this year's KOST competition as the veteran bench player with a guaranteed job. That won Mayberry a KOST title a year ago and De Aza has the spring training success to be a quality competitor in this year's race. Since his first spring training with the Marlins in 2006, De Aza has hit .295/.339/.466 in 451 spring training at bats. That's not an overwhelming line by any means but say De Aza heats up or maybe pops a couple of extra windy Tradition Field home runs onto the berm this March, he might well come out on top.
There are three types of player that seem to make a quality KOST candidate and they are 1) depth outfielders, 2) crappy hitting catchers, and 3) gritty utility guys. Ty Kelly, in camp on a minor league deal, fits into the third category. Kelly plays all over the infield and outfield and has been in camp the past three seasons with different teams without a ton of success. He was 0-1 with the Orioles in 2013, then hit .118/.318/.176 with the Mariners in 2014, and finally hit .205/.319/.308 in his largest sample with the Cardinals last season. So why is Kelly on this list? He's very gritty! Check out how high he holds his hands in his batting stance. Look at this gritty diving stop he made on a David Wright grounder last year! Grit. Grission. He's got it.
In camp with the Mets as a non-roster invitee, Bernadina is the type of big league veteran who would benefit from a loud offensive performance this spring and the former National has that in his past. Bernadina hit .413/.518/.739 in 46 spring at bats with the Reds two years ago and he's a .283/.370/.426 spring training hitter overall. With the Mets somewhat thin in the outfield beyond the five guys penciled onto the big league roster, Bernadina is probably a long shot but could get plenty of at bats early on to make an impression.
Nevin Ashley, RayWilly Gomez, Gavin Cecchini, Dom Smith, Wilmer Flores