Baseball fans put a ton of stock into spring training stats. While sometimes warranted, these February and March player evaluations rarely affect what will transpire from April to October.
It's no different this year down in Port St. Lucie. New York Mets fans, beat writers and pundits are meticulously sifting through Grapefruit League box scores as they try to predict who will be the team's next great player and who will end up a notorious flash in the pan.
Not every fan can be as diligent as the aforementioned group of stat-heads, but that's just fine. Here is a cure for spring training fever in the form of this year's surprises, busts and injuries at Mets camp.
Byrd, a 35-year-old journeyman outfielder has an impressive lifetime .278 average, but he's turned it up this spring training. He's one of the faint glimmers of hope in the Mets' outfield—a scary thought seeing as he finished 2012 with a paltry .210 batting average in 143 at-bats.
Byrd has exhibited many shortcomings throughout his 11 seasons in the bigs, but he has a homer, three doubles and four RBI this spring.
Yes, his production in the lineup has been shocking, but don't expect it to translate into meaningful numbers come April and May. The Mets are Byrd's sixth team for a reason, so anything Terry Collins can get out of him in 2013 should be seen as an added bonus.
It's never a good sign for the upcoming season when a guy like Cowgill is seen as one of the better signings of a team's offseason, but he's been producing in Florida thus far. The gap between his career batting average (.269) and his batting average (.379) this spring is staggering, so don't make the mistake of getting too caught up in his recent success.
Cowgill has slugged two homers this spring in just 29 at-bats, swiped three bags and has been caught once. He has been an intriguing player to start camp, but to believe that he can be a reliable option in the outfield for a full season is misguided.
Valdespin made headlines recently when he took a fastball below-the-belt (he wasn't wearing a cup!) from Justin Verlander, but his numbers this spring have been the real story. Three homers, six RBI, a .370 average and a .414 on-base percentage are gaudy numbers in a 27 at-bat sample, but we've seen similar power numbers from Valdespin in pinch-hit situations.
Despite his great spring and promise as a young player, Valdespin isn't going to acquire a starting spot on the Mets unless he can learn how to effectively play in cavernous Citi Field and figure out how to hit left-handed pitching (.226 lifetime).
He's young, energetic and brings a good vibe to the clubhouse and diamond, but potential and a smile on his face won't get him on the field in a full-time role. Valdespin gives a reason to be excited, but curb your enthusiasm.
The more Kirk Nieuwenhuis plays, the more evident it becomes that his .325 average last April was an aberration rather than the norm. He's been dealing with a knee injury (via Newsday's Marc Carig) for the last week, and maybe even longer, but that doesn't excuse a .056 batting average this spring.
He has precisely one hit since the Mets began camp, and that's going to make sure he resides in the minor leagues this season. If not for the lack of options, Nieuwenhuis wouldn't be in the discussion this spring, but because of the Mets' outfield wasteland, he's getting another shot even if he doesn't deserve it.
According to Carig's report, Nieuwenhuis got some good news regarding his balky knee, but he's running out of time to prove that he is worth a roster spot.
After breaking his wrist in a freak accident furniture-moving accident, Duda has returned and picked up right where he left off in 2012. Duda hit what looked like rock bottom last July when he picked up just six hits in the month before being demoted to Triple-A, but it could get much worse.
He's hitting .233 this spring training, which is abysmal as a standalone stat, but his 11 strikeouts and two walks are the most alarming part of his dismal spring. Duda, who the Mets regarded as a 30-homer threat in his younger years—a notion that some members of the organization probably still believe true—has just one homer this spring.
Of course, as noted earlier, putting excess stock in spring training numbers is not a great idea, but Duda has been heading in the wrong direction for quite some time. He's completely lost at the plate and has shown no signs of turning that around in Port St. Lucie.
The same Collin McHugh who posted a 2.91 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A last season has been plastered for five earned runs and 10 hits in 4.2 innings this spring training. As a pitcher fighting for a place as a spot starter somewhere down the line, these are not encouraging numbers.
According to The New York Times' Andrew Keh, the Mets had seen enough of the 25-year-old righty and demoted him along with nine other players.
McHugh started four games and came on in relief in four others in 2012 to the tune of a 7.59 ERA, but the front office surely didn't expect him to get rocked as badly as he did this spring. Another disconcerting tidbit is that McHugh whiffed 17 batters in 21.2 innings in the majors last season, but struck out exactly zero batters this spring.
Santana has been one of the Mets major concerns since his performance deteriorated after serving up the first and only no-hitter in franchise history on June 1. The story hasn't changed this spring.
The prognosis for Santana's future wasn't positive after he was put on the shelf for the end of the 2012 season, but his issues at camp have taken that pessimism to the next level. The latest news on Santana (via ESPN's Adam Rubin) is that there is a chance he will start the season on the disabled list.
He turned 34 on Wednesday, and the fact that he is still having shoulder problems after a full offseason of rest would indicate that he is on his way out. That's all speculation, but with his contract coming off the books next season, don't be surprised if Santana has thrown his last pitch as a Met if he can't get his shoulder straight.
Fulmer, the Mets No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com, underwent meniscus surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Before he was sidelined for the remainder of the spring, Fulmer hadn't contributed much at camp, so it's not as if this injury is extremely detrimental to his major league development process. However, it is still an inconvenience.
But have no fear Mets fans, Fulmer himself assured that his injury is a small obstacle that he will pass en route to joining the big league club one day. He tweeted the following:
Only a very minor set back in a long career. Looking forward to getting back to 100%— Michael Fulmer (@MFulmer12) March 12, 2013
At just 19 years old, Fulmer was nowhere near ready to contribute this season, but it is always news when a prospect undergoes surgery of any type. The Mets won't call Fulmer up for a long time, but a full and speedy recovery is important.
Wheeler's oblique injury turned into a huge story when he missed a scheduled start, and it turned into an even bigger one when he seemingly attributed his demotion to it.
According to MLB.com's Joey Nowak, the No. 2 overall prospect in the Mets organization believed he was set to make the team outright: "I don't think the injury helped," Wheeler said. "I really didn't think about it all that much. My mind-set was coming in and making the team."
His lone start, in which he wowed scouts and fans alike, came against the Washington Nationals and gave Mets fans hope that they might have their own Stephen Strasburg shooting up the ranks. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Wheeler's time to be great will come. It's just a matter of when.
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