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Potential breakout candidates for the 2019 Mets

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These players are poised for big things this season.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

If there was one thing that stuck out about the 2018 Mets, it’s that they were almost an entirely different team in the second half. Once several of their core players began performing better and they stopped giving too many at-bats to aging veterans, they became fun to watch again. If the 2019 Mets can see performances from some of their key pieces akin to what they produced down the stretch in 2018, they could very well be a contender.

Noah Syndergaard

By almost any measure, Syndergaard’s 2018 was pretty darn good. But we also know Syndergaard has the capability to be a lot more than pretty darn good. He has the capability to be elite.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets
Even in a “down” year, Syndergaard’s 2.80 FIP was 7th-best in baseball among pitchers with at least 150 IP in 2018.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

We saw this version of Syndergaard in 2016 before his 2017 season was cut down by injury. And while he made 25 starts in 2018, his season was interrupted by Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease of all things. Plagued at times by inconsistent mechanics and sub-optimal pitch sequencing last season, there is every reason to believe that with a few minor tweaks, the pitcher with the best stuff in the game can put up another 6 WAR season like he did in 2016. Syndergaard certainly gave this notion legs by ending last season on a high note. To kick off the month of September, Syndergaard tossed his first career complete game, striking out eleven, and to close out the month and the 2018 season, he threw his first shutout. If this is any indication of things to come, Syndergaard’s 2019 should be something to behold.

Michael Conforto

Conforto’s All-Star caliber 2017 season was curtailed by a devastating shoulder injury that required surgery to repair. Despite that, he still put up a 4.4 fWAR season in just 109 games. He returned sooner than expected and that was perhaps to his detriment; he had a very slow start to his 2018 season and just didn’t look quite like himself at the plate. However, his second half numbers were extremely encouraging. Conforto posted a 143 wRC+ in the second half last season and his ISO rose from just .150 in the first half to .266 in the second half. In fact, his numbers at the plate were nearly identical to his 2017 campaign over that span. Even given his first half struggles, Conforto was still a 3 WAR player in 2018 and is poised to produce something a lot closer to his 2017 season in 2019.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets
A fully healthy and productive Michael Conforto is perhaps the most dangerous hitter in the Mets’ revamped lineup.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Amed Rosario

Like Conforto, Amed Rosario finished his season strong in 2018. While his wRC+ only rose from 81 in the first half to 90 in the second half, his batting average and on-base percentage climbed and his strikeouts went down substantially, indicators that his contact and on-base abilities were improving.

San Francisco Giants v New York Mets
The defensive metrics on Rosario don’t paint a pretty picture, but the raw ability is there.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In the final two months of the season, Rosario slashed .284/.318/.413 and posted a 102 wRC+. If he can sustain that level of offensive production over the course of a season while making strides defensively at a premium position, he will be an extremely valuable player to the Mets in 2019, especially when factoring in his already elite speed on the base paths. While many seemed ready to write Rosario off after a rough first half in 2018, sometimes we forget that the 23-year-old is not at all far removed from being one of the top prospects in the game and that plenty of room for improvement remains.

Zack Wheeler

Fully healthy for the first time since 2014, Zack Wheeler amassed 182 13 innings of work in 2018. While his first half was uneven, his second half numbers were positively deGromian.

New York Mets v Los Angeles Dodgers
Zack Wheeler had an otherworldly second half. I’m sensing a pattern here.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Over 75 innings in the second half, Wheeler posted a 1.68 ERA, a 0.81 WHIP, and a 2.53 FIP, holding opponents to a .174 batting average. One key to his success was a precipitous drop in walk rate—from 3.35 batters per nine innings in the first half to just 1.80 in the second half. When compared with 2017, Wheeler threw harder, generated more soft contact, and mixed in his slider more often last season, results that can hopefully be sustained through an entire season in 2019. Absent an extension from the Mets, 2019 will also be Wheeler’s final season before hitting free agency, which perhaps provides added incentive to prove he belongs in the conversation with baseball’s top of the rotation starters.

Jeff McNeil

Jeff McNeil absolutely burst onto the scene in 2018, having one of the best season debuts at the plate in franchise history. He accrued 2.7 fWAR in just 63 games—an impressive clip eerily reminiscent of Yoenis Cespedes’s second half in 2015 that helped lift the Mets to the playoffs.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets
How many hits does Jeff McNeil’s knobless bat hold in 2019?
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

But with the Mets having acquired Robinson Cano in trade, McNeil’s primary 2018 position will be occupied in 2019. The addition of Jed Lowrie as well paints an even more crowded infield picture, leaving many to wonder where exactly McNeil fits in. But Brodie Van Wagenen remains insistent that McNeil is a key piece for the success of the 2019 Mets, saying that he will see time in the outfield and bat between Brandon Nimmo and Robinson Cano in the order. The Mets appear to have a plan in place to use McNeil as a Ben Zobrist type of player with flexibility around the infield and at the corner outfield positions. Given McNeil’s speed and athleticism, it is certainly not an unreasonable approach. If that plan is executed properly, McNeil should see plenty of at-bats and provide an immense amount of value to the Mets in 2019.

Peter Alonso

With no clear starting first baseman on the roster as currently constructed for 2019, the first base job is Peter Alonso’s for the taking. Alonso was just named MLB Pipeline’s best first base prospect in the major leagues.

MLB: All Star Game-Futures Game Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the bat, Alonso has little left to prove in the minor leagues. Between Binghamton and Las Vegas last season, he posted a .975 OPS and smacked a minor league-leading 36 home runs. Back in November, he lit up our Twitter feeds when he blasted a 103-mph fastball from Blue Jays prospect Nate Pearson for a home run to straightaway center in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game. All that remains to be seen is whether that prodigious power carries over to the big league level and if he can hack it at first base defensively. If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then Alonso has Rookie of the Year potential written all over him.

Honorable mentions

Juan Lagares

We’ve seen that a healthy Juan Lagares is capable of being a three-win player with even just a league average bat on the back of his defense. The problem is, he hasn’t been healthy. However, the Mets have brought in another defensive-minded center fielder into the fold in Keon Broxton to share Lagares’ role, which will hopefully keep him healthier over the course of the season.

Steven Matz

Matz’s numbers certainly weren’t flashy last season, but the most important thing is that he was healthy and made 30 starts for the first time in his career. That is definitely something to build on for Steven. The Mets have a front end of their rotation that can match up against any other in baseball, but they may very well live and die by the starts Matz can provide them out of the fourth spot.