The New York Mets are a team with plenty of holes going into 2013, with no area looking weaker than their young outfield.
With the Mets finally cutting ties with Jason Bay, and Andres Torres returning to San Francisco after a disappointing year, what remains is a group led by Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter.
New addition Collin Cowgill will likely feature on the bench, with Jordany Valdespin possibly seeing time in the outfield again, and if the Mets can sign him for a reasonable price, Scott Hairston may return, too.
Based on their play in 2012, that leaves the Mets without a player who you can really call a true, everyday outfielder, but all is not lost.
Expectations are low for the group going into the season; so really, the only way is up. With so much youth and some obvious talent in a few of these players, there's a good chance someone could step up and surprise us next year.
In future years, when the Mets have brought up the likes of Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud and are looking to make the playoffs, it is more than likely that a new outfield trio will be in place through free agency and the minor leagues.
That said, even if overall production is low in 2012, if just one of these guys can prove themselves worthy of a spot in that future outfield it will make Sandy Alderson's job a lot easier.
The most likely candidate has to be Duda. Expectations were somewhat high for the left fielder last season after a strong showing in 2011, but he went on to disappoint tremendously.
Duda failed to give the Mets the power they were looking for from him, and more strikingly his average dropped from .292 to .239. Couple that with his terrible defense, and it's easy to see why he fell out of favor.
Still, with his huge frame, it's hard to ignore Duda's potential to be a serious power hitter, even if he didn't show it last season. If he can develop into a 25-plus home run hitter, his defensive flaws might be easier to accept.
Hopes were high for Duda for a reason, and at only 26, who's to say that he can't revert to 2011 Duda next year?
Next up is Nieuwenhuis, who eventually cooled off but was very impressive in his first month or so in the majors last year.
At this point, Kirk is much better suited to a platoon role at center field, and can contribute more coming off the bench. Still, there's a chance that Nieuwenhuis can play at a level where you'd accept him as an everyday player if surrounded by two better outfielders (like prospects Brandon Nimmo and Matt den Dekker) in the future.
Nieuwenhuis' ceiling is probably only as a very small part of the Mets offense, but at this point that's actually something that would be welcome in an outfield filled with players who may not even have that small an upside.
Hometown left fielder Baxter, who is best known for his heroic grab during Johan Santana's no-hitter this past season, could be an interesting player. He was found out as a starter last year, but he has the potential to be an extremely helpful bench player when the Mets can add talent ahead of him.
Before he was forced to start last year, Baxter was doing great things for the Mets as a pinch-hitter, especially in the first half of the season.
Sure, he won't repeat his early-season form in his current situation as the starter in left field, but it's likely that he'll play at a level worthy of a fourth outfield spot in the future.
That doesn't sound like much, but in future years it's something that will be a lot easier to appreciate.
It does feel quite underwhelming for a player proving himself good enough to be the fourth outfielder or the worst of three starting outfielders to be considered a success this season, but that's where the Mets are right now.
The outfield stands in stark contrast to what could be a very strong infield, and the Mets will take anything they can get out there this season.
It's at least comforting to know that there is talent coming through lower in the organization, and that this should only be a short-term look for the Mets outfield.
Watching these current players and thinking about how useful they could be in future roles may be a better way to look at things this season.
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