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Minors-bound prospects will hog Mets' spring spotlight

The SportsXchange

New York Mets camp could take on an odd atmosphere this spring, considering how much hype will revolve around two players almost certain not to make the team.

Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis d'Arnaud are extreme long shots to break camp with the Mets, not only because the organization wants them to develop more in the Minors, but also because the Mets want to prevent their service-time clocks from ticking. Two of the franchise's most highly touted prospects in years, Wheeler and d'Arnaud should be key cogs in the organization for a long time.

When camp officially begins Feb. 11 in Port St. Lucie, Fla., all eyes will be on two super prospects slated to begin the year at Class AAA Las Vegas. It could make for a sticky situation, particularly if Wheeler and d'Arnaud prove to be major-league-ready during camp. Most scouts agree that they both could at least hold their own in the big leagues right now.

The Mets hope simply that those two soak up as much as they can this spring so that they will be ready to contribute when called up this summer. D'Arnaud might have made the majors already had he not torn a ligament in his left knee last summer. With a strong month of April, he could make his debut by May.

D'Arnaud, 23, hit .333 with a .380 on-base percentage, a .585 slugging percentage, 16 homers and 52 RBI in 67 games in Class AAA last year. He was acquired in the December deal that sent NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Wheeler, 22, may take a big longer as he follows the career arc of former top prospect Matt Harvey. Like Harvey last season, Wheeler figures to start out at Class AAA before making his way to the majors sometime after the All-Star break. Last season, Wheeler went a combined 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts between Class AA and Class AAA.

Whenever they arrive, the Mets probably will be aching for their help. This is virtually the same team that finished in fourth place in the NL East last season, only without 20-game winner Dickey and outfielder Scott Hairston, who bashed 20 home runs. The rotation and infield remain strong, but the outfield is a major point of concern.

The Mets have done precious little to supplement that group, prompting general manager Sandy Alderson to admit the outfield won't be a strength. Though the Mets still could make an 11th-hour acquisition of Michael Bourn, such a move remains unlikely.

Considering the Mets have few new players in camp and few roster decisions to make, the months of February and March should pass relatively quietly. The team must decide on its final bullpen structure and fill out the bench, but even those competitions seem relatively straightforward.

All eyes in Port St. Lucie will be elsewhere: on Wheeler and d'Arnaud, two of the franchise's great hopes for the future.

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