Ring Looks To Impress This Spring

When Royce Ring signed his first contract with the Chicago White Sox in 2002, it included a clause requiring the team to invite him to its major league spring training camp this season. That clause was invalidated when Ring and two other minors leaguers were traded to the Mets last July for second baseman Roberto Alomar.

"I kind of wondered what would happen," said Ring, a 23-year-old left-handed relief pitcher. "They were under no obligation."

No worries. The Mets wanted Ring in camp as much as he wanted to be there. "He's one of the guys I want to get a look at," manager Art Howe said. "We have some good young arms here, and now is the time to see what they can do. He's going to get his chance."

General manager Jim Duquette said Ring is one of the few rookies with a chance to make the team. The young power pitcher would add some muscle and flash to a veteran bullpen. "Royce is an intriguing pitcher," pitching coach Rick Peterson said. "He looks like a closer, doesn't he?"

At 6-foot, 220 pounds, Ring is a stocky type. Long sideburns and a goatee add to his image. Like Mariano Rivera, he prefers to enter the game with a Metallica song playing. His choice is "Sad But True." "Being a closer is a mentality, but I never expected I would have this role," Ring said. "I kind of fell into it."

A middling prospect out of high school, Ring landed at San Diego State when some scholarship money came available. After a nondescript freshman year, he dropped 25 pounds and blossomed into a dominant reliever.

"I had to get stronger, and I did a lot of work that winter," he said. "That made my fastball better, and things happened from there. I became a max-effort kind of pitcher." Ring saved 26 games over the next two seasons, earning All-America honors as a junior. The White Sox selected him with the 18th overall pick in the draft.

"I was shocked when I was traded because I had barely spent a full season in their organization," Ring said. "But then I realized it was good that another team wanted me and that I had an opportunity with the Mets."

A fastball/slider pitcher, Ring has improved his changeup significantly in the last year. He was 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA and seven saves in 18 games for Double-A Binghamton last season and is likely to start this season with Triple-A Norfolk. Depending on which scout you ask, Ring projects as more of a setup man than a closer in the majors although Peterson's influence could change that. Regardless, he is one of the young pitchers the Mets plan to use during the season.

"I can't say I will be disappointed if I get sent down this spring, but I am going pitch as well as I can and force them to make a decision," Ring said. "I feel like I am close to being ready and maybe I can get there this spring. I am going to learn a lot from the guys here, and hopefully I will turn some heads."

WHERE, WHEN: Thomas J. White Stadium, Port St. Lucie, Fla. First exhibition game is March 3 against the Dodgers in Vero Beach.

WHO'S IN CHARGE: Manager Art Howe (2nd season as manager, 66-95 with Mets; 1,058-1,046 in career with Astros, Athletics and Mets), pitching coach Rick Peterson, hitting coach Denny Walling, bench coach Don Baylor, bench coach Matt Galante, third-base coach Bobby Floyd, first-base coach Gary Pettis, bullpen coordinator Nelson Silverio.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: RHP Grant Roberts has pitched only 64 innings over the last two seasons because of shoulder problems, but he will be given a chance to win a spot in the rotation and may be the favorite. Only 26, the one-time top prospect is ready to blossom. He has overcome arm problems and matured greatly in the last two years.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: SS Kazuo Matsui arrived in New York overburdened with expectations. He is expected to hit first, play Gold Glove defense and work well with 20-year-old second baseman Jose Reyes. Matsui has unquestioned skills but could take time to develop (much like countryman Hideki Matsui needed with the Yankees). Mets fans may not have the patience to wait for Matsui to get comfortable.

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