When the weather gets a little bit warmer and pictures of orange and blue batting practice jerseys being worn on sunny Florida fields pop up on the Internet, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with a sense optimism for the upcoming season.
It’s soul-crushing come October.
That being said, there is a lot to be excited about heading into the 2012 season. While the initial outlook seems pretty bleak, this year is certainly a stepping stone for a brighter future.
In their first Grapefruit League game this spring, the Mets showcased many exciting prospects that could be ushered into a new era in Flushing over the course of the next few years.
Of course the pitching quartet of Zach Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia has deservingly captured the attention of fans and the media. It’s simple — pitching wins championships and the Mets boast an intriguing crop of hurlers who are on the cusp of making it to the big leagues.
However, there is also promise on the offensive side of the ball.
Lucas Duda has opened the eyes of Mets officials over the raw power the 6 foot 4 giant possesses. With the dimensions of Citi Field being adjusted to better suit the current roster of Mets players, Duda is one of the bats that could truly benefit from the shortened fences.
In 100 games last year, Duda hit 10 home runs and knocked in 50 RBIs, but so far this spring Duda’s uncanny ability to hit balls over the fences at Field 7, which has been modified to mirror Citi Field’s newfound dimensions, has fans and Mets brass alike dreaming of an Adam Dunn-like hitter.
Jason Bay and David Wright have both marveled at Duda’s strength, not to mention the hitting exhibitions he has routinely put on for the team.
“He’s putting the rest of us to shame,” Bay said in an article for ESPN New York. “He was bench-pressing the other day. I couldn’t really tell, but I’m pretty sure they were the 120-pound dumbbells he was doing with one arm. You don’t see that very often.”
Duda, who just turned 26, had the highest on-base percentage among NL rookies last year, finishing with a .370 mark. He also was first in slugging percentage (.482) and finished second in batting average (.292). It’s hard not to get excited about a full season’s worth of Duda’s offensive production.
Other prospects have also been competing in camp and should be arriving in Queens earlier rather than later.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, one of the Mets top outfield prospects, would have likely been called up at the end of last season if it wasn’t for a shoulder injury that sidelined him. While Niewenhuis won’t stick out in any one category, sometimes the sum of parts is greater than the whole.
Niewenhuis has not been counted out of breaking the Opening Day roster with the Mets; however, the most likely scenario for the center fielder will be starting the season at AAA Buffalo and being called up if or when newly-acquired Andres Torres falters.
Finally, second base prospect Reese Havens should factor into the Mets future as long as he can stay healthy.
Havens has always had back injuries, which have limited him to only 213 games over his four professional seasons since being selected in the first round of the 2008 draft. Despite this, Havens was listed as the ninth best second basemen prospect in the game by mlb.com and has been lauded for his all-around solid bat.
“Reese Havens, when he’s healthy, is an outstanding, fun-looking player,” Collins said on ESPN New York. “He’s one of those guys you just know the ceiling — if we can get him in the lineup, he’s going to play in the big leagues.”
While this season may not deliver the Mets a shimmering trophy to celebrate their 50th season in existence, the horizon offers fans hope of better days.