Tebow, Tebow, Tebow

By Ethan Marshall

 

The Tim Tebow show arrived in Port St. Lucie a few weeks ago, and, this week, he appeared in two spring training games for the Mets.  The 29-year old prospect went 0-7, with three strikeouts and a hit-by-pitch in the the Grapefruit League.

After signing with the Mets last summer to play full-time professional baseball for the first time since when he was a junior in high school in 2005, Tebow was thrown right into the wringer this spring. His Grapefruit League debut last Wednesday came against 2016 A.L. Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello.  Porcello struck him out looking on four pitches.

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Tebow walking back to the dugout after striking out in his first at-bat of spring training.  Photo credit: Jason Vinlove, USA TODAY Sports

Tebow’s second at-bat seemed like a Hollywood movie moment in the making when he stepped into the box with the bases loaded and nobody out.  A homer would’ve added to the circus that is Tim Tebow.  While Tebow did hit the ball hard, it was on the ground and right at the second baseman, resulting in a double play.

After getting hit in the shoulder in his third at-bat, Tebow didn’t even flinch as he tossed his bat and went to first base.  Tebow would get doubled up shortly after this when he was caught too far off first base on a lineout to second by L.J. Mazzili.

While Tebow and the Mets have been criticized for inserting him into the starting lineup, taking away playing time from potentially better ballplayers, it should be noted that Tebow was a very good baseball player in his high school days.  Tebow’s former high school  baseball coach, Greg “Boo” Mullins, described him as a “six-tool player,” the sixth tool being his character.  In a 2013 interview with The Sporting News, the former Nease High (Ponte Vedre, Florida) baseball coach said “Everybody should know this: He wasn’t just a great football player, he was a great baseball player too.  I believe he could have played in the big leagues.

In his junior year, Tebow batted .494, with four homers, 30 RBI, and 10 doubles.  Mullins projected Tebow could’ve been drafted between the 7th and 12th rounds out of high school.  He went as far to say that Tebow could’ve potentially be drafted in the second round had he played baseball in college.  The reason he was never drafted, as Mullins points out, was that while multiple MLB teams were considering drafting him out of high school, they didn’t want to waste a pick on a man who had clear intentions of playing football over baseball.

Despite Tebow’s unsurprisingly poor spring performance, Mets manager Terry Collins did see some bright spots in the former Heisman Trophy winner.  According to The New York Daily News, Collins said “The speed of the game is really something he hasn’t seen before.  [Wednesday] was his first game, he went back and took live (batting practice) and he saw better at-bats [Friday].  He was more rested at the plate, a lot more comfortable.  All things considered I thought he did a nice job.”

Regardless of how Tebow’s baseball career pans out, every at-bat, every defensive opportunity, and every game he participates in will be heavily covered by the media.  For the Mets, this is just the beginning of the Tim Tebow circus sideshow.

 

 

Mets’ Fab Four Won’t Pitch in a Game Until March 5th: By Ethan Marshall

The Mets have and will continue to be cautious in the workload of their young starting rotation.  Terry Collins told reporters today that Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz won’t be appearing in a spring training game until as early as March 5th, and that Zack Wheeler could be seeing action in the Grapefruit League as early as March 8th.  In an effort to keep them healthy, the Mets’ starting rotation has been kept to a lighter workload so far this spring.

Each of the young starters dealt with injuries in 2016 following their run into the 2015 World Series.  Harvey was very ineffective before he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, requiring season-ending surgery.  deGrom experienced fatigue early in the season, with his fastball velocity decreasing from the mid-to-upper-90s to the lower 90s. deGrom would catch the injury bug in September when he required elbow surgery to move the ulnar collateral ligament.  Matz was diagnosed with a large bone spur in his pitching arm early last season.  He attempted to pitch through it, but was eventually shut down in September after missing about a month due to a shoulder impingement.  Wheeler hasn’t pitched in a major league game since September of 2014.  After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015, Wheeler suffered a series of setbacks in his rehab in 2016, before being shut down.  Syndergaard was the only one from the young staff able to make it through the season, though he did so with a small bone spur in his pitching arm.  There is also worry that Syndergaard may one day require Tommy John surgery.  He is the only one of this young and dynamic rotation to have never had the surgery.

The Mets understand that they need to be conservative in how they use their starters this spring.  They need to make sure the rotation is healthy and fresh, but not rusty.  The Mets’ 2015 pennant-winning run likely contributed to at least some of the injuries on the starting core.  With a whole offseason to recuperate, the Mets are optimistic that their rotation can stay intact this year and possibly lead them back to the World Series.  There is no need to rush these pitchers into games.  They don’t need to be throwing every single workout day.  2017 would mark the first time that all five of the Mets’ prized pitchers would be healthy and active at the same time.

Is David All-Wright?

The Mets and David Wright are trying to do everything they can to keep him healthy enough to make it through the 2017 season.  Wright has been spending the first week of spring training continuing his rehab from the surgery he had to remove a herniated disk in his neck.  So far, his rehab has gone smoothly.  Wright has been able to take ground balls, do some light running, and can now take some swings.  However, he still hasn’t been cleared to throw the baseball, and has yet to face live pitching.  Still, Wright’s goal is to be ready to play come opening day.

There have been discussions about the possibility of Wright seeing some time at first base this spring.  Manager Terry Collins said, “If we decide he needs to get some ground balls at first base, that can be done late in spring training.  He’s such a good athlete, he’ll catch on to that easily.”  If Wright’s throwing becomes an issue, he could very well find himself at first base, similar to what the Nationals did with his buddy Ryan Zimmerman in 2015.

Wright said recently that he is open to playing first base if necessary.  “I’m open to doing anything that helps this team win.  I haven;t been approached about it so right now I’m a third baseman until somebody tells me different.  But of course I’m all ears because we think we’re on the cusp of being a World Series-contending team, and I want to help in any way I can with that.”

A platoon at first base with Lucas Duda may actually prove to be beneficial to Wright, Duda, and the Mets.  Duda is a very good hitter, but struggles against lefties.  Wright has tortured lefties throughout his playing career.  Additionally, a platoon would allow for Wright to get several days off, something he needs in order to play a full season with spinal stenosis.  Moving Wright to first base would also allow for the Mets to put Jose Reyes in the lineup every day lineup at third base.  Reyes adds much-needed speed to a Mets lineup that is otherwise harmless on the basepaths.

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David Wright speaks to reporters for the first time after undergoing surgery to remove a herniated disk in his neck.  Photo credit: SNY.TV/ Mets Blog/ Matthew Cerrone.

“He hasn’t thrown in a long time, so we’ve got to get that arm back.  That’s why we’ve got to be careful, because if you force it, tendinitis can pop in there in a second.  So, we’ll bring him along slow on the throwing side,” manager Terry Collins said about Wright.

Wright recently revealed to reporters where he currently stands in his rehab process.  Wright said,”I have been put on a shoulder strengthening program, that should be wrapping up here soon.  And then I go on to a throwing program, which for position players shouldn’t take that long to get going if everything is OK.”  However, there is no guarantee that everything will be OK at that point for him.  Wright will be limited in his workouts by his spinal stenosis, which, along with the neck surgery, bring Wright’s future with the team into question.  There is no guarantee that Wright will be able to make it through the 2017 season.

As much as Wright wants to be back on the field, he knows he needs to be careful in his rehab.  A healthy David Wright provides a solid bat on the field, and leadership in the clubhouse.  His presence has been missed over the majority of the last two seasons.  Over his 13 year career with the Mets, Wright has been through the good times and the bad times, always remaining loyal to the only team he knows.  The Mets ultimate goal going into the 2017 season is to get their captain a World Series title, a goal shared by Wright.  For now, Wright’s current goal is to be in the Mets starting lineup for opening day on April 3rd.

 

 

Written by Ethan Marshall

Wheeler, Lugo, and Gsellman Will Compete for Fifth Starter Spot

In his first interview of spring training, Terry Collins revealed that Zack Wheeler will be competing with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for the role of the fifth starter in the Mets rotation.  Collins also said Wheeler will see time as a starter and from the bullpen in spring training games.

I feel that this could prove to benefit all three of the pitchers competing.  Wheeler, who hasn’t pitched since 2014, would be able to get his competitive spirit back.  Providing motivation for these pitchers would allow them to treat each spring training game as if it were a regular season game.

Regardless of who ends up getting the role of the 5th starter, the other two pitchers could help to add more depth to the Mets bullpen, while also providing spot starts every now and then.

By making the starting role open, Collins will be able to get a better look at Lugo and Gsellman, as well as to see how sharp Wheeler looks after not pitching in a major league game in two years.  Lugo and Gsellman need to prove that last season was no fluke for them.  If they pitch as well this spring training as they did for the Mets last season, and Wheeler shows little to no signs of rust, Collins would face a very good problem to have as a manager.  He would have 7 strong young starting pitchers to fill in 5 spots.  Many managers would kill to be in that kind of position.

Wheeler has made it no secret that he wants to be in the starting rotation come opening day.  “I know I belong in the starting rotation, there’s no question about that.  I’m a starter.  I want to be a starter,” Wheeler said last week.  Wheeler also voiced his concerns about being in the bullpen.  “I feel that guys that go to the bullpen get stuck in the bullpen, and I don’t want to do that.  Because either you are doing bad and stay in the bullpen because you can’t be a starter, or you are doing really good and they can’t afford to move you out of the bullpen.  So you are going to get stuck there, and that’s why I’m trying to let everybody know that I’m not a bullpen guy, I’m a starter,” said Wheeler.

For Wheeler, spring training will be his first test to see if he can return to the pitcher he was in the second half of 2014.  For Lugo and Gsellman, they are trying to prove to the Mets, as well as the rest of the league, that they can be just as good as the rest of the Mets starting rotation.  It should be exciting to watch these three pitch this spring.

What Should the Mets do With Conforto?

The Mets intended to trade away Jay Bruce over the offseason in order to clear up the team payroll and the crowded outfield.  With the Mets deciding not to trade Jay Bruce, it appears that Michael Conforto is the odd man out in the outfield.  The Mets wanted to use Conforto as their everyday rightfielder in hopes that putting him in the lineup on a regular basis would help him with his confidence and allow him to recover from the sophomore slump he suffered last season.  As it stands now, Conforto may be reduced to a bench role.

The Mets need to make sure they don’t mishandle the 23-year-old outfielder.  Sending him to the minors doesn’t seem to be a realistic solution at this point, considering he hit .422 in 33 games for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s in 2016.  The best solution of getting regular playing time for Conforto may be to move him or Jay Bruce to first base.  First baseman Lucas Duda is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 season, and there is some uncertainty to just how healthy and effective he may be in 2017.  Having Bruce or Conforto available to play first base in case Duda is unable to play or struggling allows for Conforto to get extra playing time while also keeping the bat of Bruce in the lineup.

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Michael Conforto.  Photo Credit: Anthony J. Causi.

The Mets can also have Conforto take reps in center field during spring training.  This would allow for an alternative offensive threat from that position if Curtis Granderson is hurt or struggling.  He played 6 games at the position last season without making any errors, though he didn’t seem 100% comfortable at the position.  Having a whole spring training to learn and practice more at this position may let him look and feel more comfortable.

If Conforto is on the bench, it may also be likely that he gets a lot of opportunities pinch-hitting.  Just because he isn’t starting a game doesn’t mean he won’t see a lot of action.  He adds depth to an already impressive Mets bench, providing power and likely getting many opportunities to get big hits and drive in runs.  If Conforto starts to look impressive off the bench, the Mets may just start putting him in the starting lineup over other players who may not be hitting as well as him.  Conforto and the rest of the Mets hitters need to remember Terry Collins’ mantra that the players that are hitting get to be in the strating lineup.