So easy a caveman can do it.
You’ve heard that tagline about a thousand times, as it was commonly used by Geico in commercials. That line could also describe the level of difficulty in projecting out a New York Mets starting lineup for 2013. The one caveat is that injuries may prevent this lineup from materializing on Opening Day. But, as soon as two key starters are 100-percent healthy, they’re as good as gold.
When describing what the Mets have to offer in 2013, we can keep the superlatives in our back pocket and simply refer to the offensive side as good, but not great. Fans will get their share of highlights in 2013, but the team won’t take the sport by storm.
1. Ruben Tejada, SS
This has been a spring to forget for Tejada, but the good news is that it will be over soon. Then, he can turn the page and work on putting up offensive numbers that are a closer match to what we’ve seen over the past two seasons.
Tejada is what the Mets need at the top of the lineup. He’s a good contact hitter (average in the .280s in 2011 and 2012) and brings some decent speed to the basepaths. With a few breaks in the right direction, he could hit over .300.
2. Daniel Murphy, 2B
You probably won’t see his name on the lineup card come Opening Day, but when Murphy is healthy enough to play, he won’t be sitting and watching. A rib injury js expected to cause him to start the season on the DL.
Murphy is a solid choice for the No. 2 spot as he's not a real power threat but is a very good contact hitter. His career average in the bigs is just under .300, and he had an outside shot at catching former teammate Jose Reyes for the 2011 batting title, finishing that season at .320.
3. David Wright, 3B
Here’s another member of the Mets’ sideline crew; Wright suffered an intercostal strain representing the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic.
As is the case for Murphy, when Wright is back to normal there’s no question that he’s playing. Since the move from Shea Stadium to Citi Field, a less hitter-friendly park, Wright’s power numbers have suffered and he shifted his approach to being more of a contact hitter.
He may not be a No. 3 hitter a la Keith Hernandez, and he won’t give you Gary Carter or Mike Piazza-type power, but Wright will put up numbers that should justify the eight-year, $138 million extension he signed during the offseason. He struck out nearly 17 percent of the time last season, but that’s an improvement over three consecutive years in the 20s.
4. Ike Davis, 1B
With an injured ankle and freak illness in the rear-view mirror, Davis is poised to crank it up at the plate in 2013. If he’s healthy all season, he should have a superstar year.
If 2012 was a book, we could title it A Tale of Two Seasons. Diagnosed with Valley Fever during spring training, he hit .166 and struck out 29 percent of the time in the first third of the season; during the remainder of the campaign, he hit .257 with 27 homers.
5. Lucas Duda, LF
Duda should consider himself very fortunate; his performance this spring was awful, yet he’s still going to find his way into the Mets’ starting lineup. He had wrist surgery during the offseason and is starting to feel like his old self swinging the bat. Good time for it, as the new season is almost here. Offensive outputs of 20 HR and 75 RBI are realistic goals for 2013.
He could make some teams pay if they choose to pitch around Davis.
6. Mike Baxter, RF
To Mets fans, Baxter is somewhat of a sentimental favorite. Who could forget him smashing into the Citi Field outfield fence to make a catch that preserved Johan Santana’s no-hitter last June? Having recovered from a displaced collarbone, Baxter is ready to make a strong impact in 2013.
He can find his way onto the bases, as evidenced by his 11.8 percent walk rate last year. At the Triple-A level, he averaged 15 home runs and 21 stolen bases per 162 games. You’d have to think the Mets would be tickled to get that kind of output.
7. John Buck, C
The season hasn’t started yet, but there’s already some heat on Buck to produce.
The organization is high on Travis D’Arnaud, who is itching to be the Mets’ starting catcher. Problem is, he’s not ready for prime time yet, so he’ll do some time at Triple-A Las Vegas. This minor league stint isn’t expected to last for very long. If Buck doesn’t rack up acceptable numbers in April, he could find himself sitting on the bench watching D’Arnaud get the lion’s share of action. Buck tends to be an all-or-nothing hitter, giving you good power or lots of strikeouts.
8. Kirk Nieuwenheis, CF
No shortage of injuries in the Mets’ camp, but Nieuwenheis should be healthy enough to play on Opening Day.
Recovering from a bone bruise on his left knee, he’s still in the grapefruit lineup. He needs to show some more patience at the plate, a his too-high tendency to strike out (31.2 percent) contributed to his demotion to the minors last summer.
The Mets have a number of young guys who show potential in the outfield (such as Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin) and if either of them was just a little bit better, you’d be reading his name in the subheading above and not Nieuwenheis.