Spring training is in full swing for the New York Mets and while everyone’s attention has seemingly been on Mickey Callaway’s inaugural season as manager, Hansel Robles getting shelled and the unwarranted smear campaign of Yoenis Cespedes — don’t get me started on that last one — there are plenty of things going on in camp that people aren’t really talking about right now.
Here are some important storylines that are flying under the radar and before you say it, yes, we here at Baseball Prospectus acknowledge #SmallSampleSize, especially in spring training games…
Jeurys Familia doesn’t look right
Following a 2017 campaign that saw the Mets closer suspended during the first month of the season and on the disabled list for a total of 106 days, Jeurys Familia is looking to rebound in his final year under team control. After making just 26 appearances while posting a 4.38 ERA last year, Familia has largely flown under the radar this spring. While Familia hadn’t allowed a run until his most recent outing, where he was blasted for five earned runs, four hits, two home runs and a walk in just 1.1 innings, there has been something off in his first five exhibition appearances.
In 5.1 innings to start the spring, Familia has allowed five runs, six hits, four walks and has hit two batters while racking up one strikeout. It may be just a handful of innings in games that don’t actually matter, but Familia’s inability to miss bats right now is a bit alarming. Last season, Familia struck out 9.12 batters per nine innings while generating whiffs on 55.4 percent of his pitches. In 2016, Familia’s last fully healthy season, he got whiffs on 81.6 percent of his pitches.
Throughout the course of his career, Familia’s fastball and sinker have averaged between 95-97 miles per hour. So far this spring, however, Familia’s been sitting mostly between 91-93 mph with those pitches while generating very few swings-and-misses.
We’ll have to wait and see how and if he progresses over the next two weeks leading up to Opening Day, but lack of swings-and-misses for a power pitcher can often be an indicator of a regression. If that’s the case, the Mets may have some late-inning troubles early on this season.
The emergence of Brandon Nimmo
While there are many that have written him off over the last few years, it’s important to remember that Brandon Nimmo was once drafted 13th overall by the Mets in 2011 and is still only 24 years old. With Michael Conforto out until at least May, the club needed someone to step up in center field this spring. Many hoped that Juan Lagares, new swing and all, would be the one to take the opportunity and run, it’s actually been Nimmo who’s flourished in that role. In 32 at-bats to start out spring training, Nimmo is batting .344/.421/.750 with two home runs, three doubles, two triples, six RBI, eight runs scored, and a 1.171 OPS.
Not only that but after going 0-for-2 in their Grapefruit League opener, Nimmo has reached base safely at least once in all ten of the team’s games since.
If Nimmo is truly able to tap into the potential the organization saw in him back when they drafted him out of Wyoming—one of three states in the country that doesn’t even offer high school baseball—than he could not only solve the Mets’ center field issue, but he could also prove to be this team’s answer at leadoff to start the season.
Some young relievers are producing
This spring may not be kind to Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia, and Hansel Robles so far, but it’s two of the team’s younger relief pitchers, Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame, that have been excelling on the mound and both may have a chance to make this roster.
Sewald, 27, impressed at times after being called up by the Mets last season, pitching to a 4.55 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 1.209 WHIP and 69 strikeouts in 65.1 innings pitched. After nearly being dealt to the Indians for Jason Kipnis, as reported by The Record’s Matt Ehalt, Sewald has made his case to make the Mets bullpen to start the season as he’s posted a 1.42 ERA with five strikeouts and zero walks in 6.1 innings pitched this spring.
Rhame, whose path to the big leagues is likely tougher, has impressed as well, striking out eight batters while one in his first six appearances in Grapefruit League play. If Rhame is able to harness control of his pitches, something he was unable to do in his very brief major league stint last season that saw him issue seven walks in nine innings, he’s got the stuff to help this team in a big way out of the bullpen.
If things keep up, I would expect Sewald to be on the team’s Opening Day roster while Rhame will likely start out in Triple-A. If he continues to show what he’s displayed thus far in spring training, though, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Rhame in the big leagues contributing later this summer.
Adrian Gonzalez may not have much left
At first glance, it appeared as if the Mets were just taking a flyer on the 35-year-old Adrian Gonzalez, signing him to the major league minimum after being released by the Atlanta Braves. As the winter moved forward, however, it sounded more and more likely that, barring something crazy, Gonzalez would be the club’s first baseman on Opening Day over Dominic Smith, the team’s No. 2 overall prospect entering 2017.
Smith’s spring didn’t get off to the best of starts after being benched in the team’s first game thanks to showing up late to the facility, already putting him in the line of fire for ridicule. Then, after playing in just one spring training game, Smith suffered a quad injury and hasn’t been heard from since, all but clinching the first base spot for Gonzalez.
Here’s the problem, though: Adrian Gonzalez looks like he’s done.
In 26 at-bats this spring, Gonzalez is hitting .192/.276/.231 with no home runs, one double, no RBI, no runs scored, five strikeouts and a .507 OPS. Even putting the stats aside, it’s easy to tell by just watching the games that A-Gon may not have much left as his bat is visibly slow and he’s not even making hard contact at the plate.
Spring training results for anyone, especially a veteran player, are often of little meaning, but coming off of a season where he played in just 71 games and posted a .642 OPS, it’s reasonable to think this may be the end for a once great player. It’s likely a matter of if, not when, Smith takes over the first base job. It just won’t be on Opening Day.
The Mets catching situation actually looks pretty good
Much maligned over the past two seasons, both Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki have actually performed very well to start spring training.
Viewed by most as a position of weakness, the Mets chose not to go outside the organization for help at catcher, rather giving the tandem of d’Arnaud and Plawecki one last shot to prove what they’ve got. And so far, they have.
In 19 at-bats this spring, d’Arnaud is batting .316/.480/.526 with one home run, a double, three RBI, three runs scored, and a .984 OPS.
And while d’Arnaud has impressed at the plate thus far in camp, Plawecki may be in position to take the starting job altogether. To start spring, the 27-year-old Plawecki is hitting .381/.458/.619 with one home run, two doubles, seven RBI, a run scored and a 1.077 OPS in 21 at-bats.
“Obviously d’Arnaud hits really good against lefties,” manager Mickey Callaway said recently. “I feel like Plawecki hangs in there really good against good righties. I think we’ll base who is catching more on that type of stuff than who [starting pitchers] prefer to throw to.”
Based on those remarks by Callaway it appears likely that the Mets will go into the 2018 season with a traditional platoon situation at catcher. However, if Plawecki is going to get the majority of starts against right-handed pitching, as Callaway suggested, than he’s essentially become the Mets’ de facto starting catcher.
Over the last two years, Mets fans have been pining for the club to go out and fix the catching situation. While the club never did land Jonathan Lucroy or any other major league backstop, it’s suddenly become possible that they may have an answer at the position from the guys they’ve had all along. Whether or not that’s how this situation will play out is yet to be seen, but it’s going to be something the Mets let play out over the course of the 2018 season.
Photo credit: Jasen Vinlove – USA Today Sports