Van Poppel joins bullpen hopefuls

Todd Van Poppel will try another team in his route-going career, suiting up this spring for the New York Mets. <P> The 33-year-old right-hander, once the prized jewel of the Oakland A's farm system, signed a minor-league contract with the Mets on Monday and was invited to the club's spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

It has been a twisting road for Van Poppel, who has never achieved the great success predicted for him when Oakland gave him a then-record three-year, $1.2 million contract after signing as a first-round draft pick in 1990. Van Poppel went just 18-29 with a 5.75 ERA as a starting pitcher for Oakland before being waived in 1996.

Since then, Van Poppel has been shuttled from the rotation to the bullpen with five other clubs. His best season came in 2001 as a member of the Chicago Cubs' bullpen, making 59 appearances and posting a 2.52 ERA and a 4-1 record over 75.0 innings.

Last season, Van Poppel was 4-6 with a 6.09 ERA in 48 games (11 starts) for the Cincinnati Reds. He faces stiff competition to make the Mets, with a slew of right-handed relievers poised to compete for bullpen roles.

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