Battle For Positions

With fans focused on Kazuo Matsui's first game at shortstop and Jose Reyes' tweaked hamstring, Mets' minor league camp has been flushed out by the return of many of their top prospects and have started playing Intrasquad games. And while the battle for rightfield at Shea garners most of the attention, there are plenty of exciting battles for assignments amongst the minor league affiliates.

With fans focused on Kazuo Matsui's first game at shortstop and Jose Reyes' tweaked hamstring, Mets' minor league camp has been flushed out by the return of many of their top prospects and have started playing Intrasquad games. And while the battle for rightfield at Shea garners most of the attention, there are plenty of exciting battles for assignments amongst the minor league affiliates.

Matt Peterson and Pat Strange each threw two strong innings yesterday, Peterson in particular had his good curveball working much to the delight of his fellow pitchers who gathered on the bleachers behind home plate discussing which was more impressive his heater or the hook. Scott Kazmir reported throwing two innings on Sunday, and feeling comfortable to be back on a regular throwing schedule. Randy Keisler also showed impressive breaking pitches and had his velocity back up into the upper 80s.

One of the most hotly contested position battles in the system is at firstbase. Craig Brazell who is still in Major League camp will likely get the nod at AAA-Norfolk. Josh Pressley, acquired for Rey Ordonez last year from Tampa Bay, reported his hand as being 100% after breaking it last fall in a St. Lucie Mets game. Pressley is the early favorite to man first in AA-Binghamton. That's where it starts to get interesting. The Mets are high on both Ian Bladergroen and Tyler Davidson. Davidson, who missed the 2002 season with an injury, won the Appalachian League MVP last season by hitting .337 with 29 XBH in just 172 ABs. Davidson, formerly primarily an outfielder has been working out at firstbase this spring and through both Fall Instructional League and January's mini camp. Bladergroen hit .285 in Brooklyn last year after signing as a draft-and-follow prior to the June Draft. Additionally, Andres Rodriguez, a product of the Mets Dominican Summer League where he started playing at age 19, had a solid early season in Cap City before tailing off at the end of the year.

Those three players are locked in a death match for the opportunity to start the season at high A St. Lucie. The Mets would like to see either Bladergroen or Davidson take charge and win the position in St. Lucie as they have hopes of accelerating both through their system.

With Danny Garcia and Victor Diaz battling for position in the Major League camp and likely to stick their at least until Reyes returns, Chase Lambin is taking most of the reps on the minor league side. With Garcia and Diaz both likely to end up in Norfolk, Lambin seems destined for Binghamton to start the season. Lambin played his way into a two level jump last spring, and the Mets need for a utility infielder who can play some shortstop has Lambin working hard on both sides of the second base bag.

Blake Whealy is the early favorite for the secondbase job in St. Lucie after a solid season in Cap City and Brooklyn in 2003.

Jose Gomez is scheduled to pitch in this afternoon's Intrasquad scrum. Gomez missed the entire 2002 season with TJ surgery but has come back strong after rehabbing in Kingsport last year. Gomez was clocked consistently in the high 90s in 2001 before injuring his arm and impressed the organization in Fall Instructs by showing a return of his fastball and impressive command and location.

Minor League camp is a nostalgia trip for Mets' fans as coaches working with the youngsters now include Lenny Dykstra, Tim Teufel, Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, and Gary Carter.

PHOTOS: Cabral, Caligiuri, M. Perez, B. Wilson/Anderson, Peterson, Bennett, Dykstra, B. Wilson, Lavigne, Acuna, Lambin, Carter, Dykstra, Carter, Strong(2), Purkey(2), Kazmir, Deaton, Eckert, B. Walker, Kazmir, A. Wilson, Anderson, Reynoso, Acuna(2), Weintraub, Brewer, Cole, Keisler, Linares(2), Alfonzo, M. Wilson, Dulaney, Dykstra, Petit, Deaton

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