PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- If anyone knows how to break a pitcher like right-hander Noah Syndergaard into the big leagues, it is the New York Mets.
Two years ago, the Mets spoke glowingly in spring training of righty Matt Harvey, a former first-round draft pick who was nearly ready to make his Major League debut. For various reasons, the Mets waited until July to promote Harvey, who rapidly became one of the game's best.
Last year, with that blueprint in place, the Mets did basically the same thing with right-hander Zach Wheeler. They promoted him in June, and have high hopes this year that he will break out as Harvey did in his first full big league season.
Enter Syndergaard, one of the key pieces the Mets received from the Blue Jays two winters ago in return for R.A. Dickey. After breezing all the way up to Triple-A Las Vegas last summer, Syndergaard entered his first big league camp as highly-regarded as Harvey and Wheeler before him.
He is currently in the process of wowing his superiors, beginning with two shutout innings Monday against the Braves in a spring training game. Afterward, Braves outfielder Justin Upton said that "Harvey's Harvey, but Syndergaard and Wheeler are definitely a close second."
"Today was a big test," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Syndergaard, who features an upper-90s fastball plus a curveball and changeup. "You're not in Kansas anymore. You're where the big guys play, and I thought he handled it great."
There is virtually zero chance that Syndergaard breaks camp with the big club, considering the Mets' pitching depth and their desire to control him for one more year by keeping him down in the minors to start the season. But Syndergaard should be up in the big leagues by June or July, giving the Mets another highly-touted young arm to pair with Wheeler and Harvey for years to come.
--2B Wilmer Flores played shortstop Tuesday for the first time in a spring game. Though the Mets will likely use Flores mostly at second base this season, they are experimenting with him at short due to their weakness at the position. The Venezuelan native came up as a natural shortstop, but his size and lack of range eventually forced him off the position.
--RHP Noah Syndergaard passed what manager Terry Collins called "a big test" when he threw two shutout innings Monday against the Atlanta Braves. The outing was Syndergaard's first against Major League competition. He will likely begin this season at Triple-A Las Vegas before making his Major League debut in June.
--C Travis d'Arnaud has been working with former Mets star Mike Piazza, who is in camp for one week as a special instructor. D'Arnaud, a Southern California native, said it was "a dream" to work with Piazza, whom he grew up idolizing as a member of the Dodgers.
--RHPs Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan are leading the Mets' fifth starter competition, according to Collins. Though Collins said RHP Jenrry Mejia is still in the mix as well, the manager prefers having a veteran pitcher hold down the rotation spot early in the season. Matsuzaka in particular has impressed Collins early in camp.
--1Bs Ike Davis and Lucas Duda began their spring competition with a bang, with Davis homering in the Mets' first Grapefruit League game and Duda going yard in the second. Both suffered minor injuries Monday, but neither first baseman is expected to miss much time. The two are battling this spring for the starter's job at first.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm just enjoying today and it's fun to get back in uniform and be in the clubhouse. I feel like I have a lot to teach. Obviously, I felt like I got a lot out of my ability at the plate. If I can just talk to some young guys and maybe put a little bit of thought to help them advance their careers, it's very rewarding." -- Former New York C Mike Piazza, who is back with the Mets as a spring instructor
LHP Jon Niese
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Dillon Gee
RHP Zack Wheeler
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
The first four rotation spots are written in ink, with Niese the most likely candidate to start Opening Day. Colon was a $20 million investment for the Mets, who need him to stay healthy at age 41. The Mets could also use a strong first full season from Wheeler, who showed plenty of raw ability -- but also a fair bit of inconsistency -- as a rookie. The fifth spot is up for grabs, with Matsuzaka competing against veteran lefty John Lannan, along with young right-handers Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom. If Mejia pitches well, he could have the inside track because he is already on the 40-man roster. But Matsuzaka is the most accomplished of the bunch, and pitched well for the Mets toward the end of last season.
RHP Bobby Parnell (closer)
RHP Jose Valverde
RHP Kyle Farnsworth
LHP Scott Rice
RHP Vic Black
RHP Jeurys Familia
The Mets' biggest bullpen question revolves around the health of Parnell, who underwent surgery in October to repair a herniated disc in his neck. Parnell was enjoying a strong first season as closer before his injury last summer, and insists he will be ready in plenty of time for Opening Day. If he is not, Valverde, Farnsworth and Black are all candidates to replace him. Valverde and Farnsworth are both in camp on minor league deals, and it is unclear how much either veteran has left in the tank. The Mets plan to fill out the back end of their bullpen with a mix of hard-throwing young arms. Along with Black and Familia, right-handers Gonzalez Germen and Ryan Reid and lefty Jack Leathersich will all receive long looks in camp.
1. LF Eric Young Jr.
2. 2B Daniel Murphy
3. 3B David Wright
4. RF Curtis Granderson
5. CF Chris Young
6. 1B Ike Davis
7. C Travis d'Arnaud
8. SS Ruben Tejada
Barring injury, the only thing that could change in the lineup would be Lagares making the starting eight over Eric Young. That would shift Chris Young to right field and Granderson to left, and would leave the Mets without a clear leadoff man. Murphy might be next in line to fill that role, but the Mets love the dimension that Eric Young's speed gives them. The Mets gave Granderson a four-year, $60 million deal this winter and gave Young a one-year, $7.25 million contract to add some thump to their lineup. Both are coming off down years, but Granderson has multiple 40-homer seasons on his resume and Young has a 30-homer campaign. The Mets are also hoping for bounce-back years from Davis and Tejada, as well as a breakout from d'Arnaud, who struggled in his big league debut late last year. Wright and Murphy have been steady performers in the past for the Mets, who need both to stay healthy.
TOP ROOKIES: Syndergaard became the Mets' top overall prospect after a strong year split between Class A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton (9-4, 3.06 ERA combined). The Mets will keep him in the minors until at least June, when they hope he can join the rotation. Other top arms include RHPs Montero (12-7, 2.78 split between Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas) and deGrom (7-7, 4.51 at St. Lucie, Binghamton and Las Vegas), both of whom will compete for the fifth starter's job in spring training. OF Matt den Dekker and OF Cesar Puello could challenge for playing time by the end of the year, but are not likely to make the team out of spring training.
--RHP Matt Harvey (Tommy John surgery in October 2013) threw a baseball for the first time since surgery on Feb. 22, the four-month anniversary of his operation. He will continue to throw off flat ground three times per week this spring, with the goal of returning to the Mets by Opening Day 2015.
--RHP Jeremy Hefner (Tommy John surgery in August 2013) began throwing for the first time since the operation in mid-February. Hefner hopes to contribute to the Mets by late August or September.
--LHP Jon Niese (sore left shoulder) was ailing in late February. The Mets sent him to New York for tests, which found no structural damage. He hopes to be ready for the start of the season.
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