Boys Among Men: Rookies We May See

Despite the Mets off-season that was filled with the acquisitions of veteran ball players, throughout the year the 25-man roster will be sprinkled with young, yet important players. The Mets still have holes that need to be filled, and with a $119 million payroll, as <i>Newsday</i> reported, they will have to look towards inexpensive youth to plug them.

Leading the youth "charge" is third basemen Ty Wigginton, the projected starter at that position. Still a rookie with only 116 at bats last year, Wigginton played well in his limited time last season, hitting .302 with 6 homeruns and 18 RBI.

Wigginton never was a great hitter in the minor leagues, and has been moved around defensively enough to make his fielding bordering on atrocious (3 errors in 30 chances at 3B last year), but he's the best the Mets can do after letting Edgardo Alfonzo go, being snubbed by Japanese slugger Norohiro Nakamura and not trading for Boston's Shea Hillenbrand. If they cannot acquire a veteran third basemen before the end of Spring Training, Wigginton will be what seems like the one-millionth third basemen for the Mets at the beginning of the year.

The other component to the left side of the infield is a large question mark for the Mets as well. USA Today Minor League Player of the Year Jose Reyes, ranked by some as the top shortstop prospect in the game, is quickly developing the skills he needs to be the Mets' shortstop now. Reyes is a great fielder and is incredibly fast, and he uses his speed to create havoc once he gets on the basepaths, something he will continue to improve on doing, given his improving hitting skills and the emphasis the Mets will place on plate patience. Reyes has the tools to be a top shortstop for a long time, as he is only 19 years old. He is truly the future of this organization.

That being said, Reyes has yet to play a game above the AA level, and needs to work on plate patience and driving the ball. The signing of veteran shortstop Rey Sanchez provides the Mets with time to develop Reyes further, and with production akin to what Reyes would put up while in the Major Leagues this year. Art Howe told the MSG Network that Sanchez will almost definitely be starting the season as the Mets' shortstop, and it would make sense that it would stay that way until around June, with Reyes having two full months at AAA to polish his game.

With Mike Piazza being able to play less and less games at catcher, younger, fresher legs are needed for the Metropolitans. Backup Vance Wilson is a nice fielder, but does not provide much offense. A better option with the bat is Norfolk's Jason Phillips, who saw brief time with the Mets last September. He may see some time if Piazza or Wilson goes down, but he will not be a major factor, as, if healthy, Piazza will continue to catch most of the Mets' games.

Another important roster spot the Mets need to fill is the fifth starter's role. While free agent import Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, and the re-signed Steve Trachsel take up the first three roles, the fourth and fifth slots are open. Pedro Astacio is expected to start the season on the DL with shoulder problems. There will be competition for the spots, with former first round draft pick Aaron Heilman, oft-injured but solid prospect Jason Middlebrook and soft-tossing lefty Mike Bacsik. The latter two spent some time with the Mets last season, most notably Bacsik who went 2-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 55 2/3 innings pitched, with 9 of his 11 appearances being starts. Middlebrook was 1-0 with a 3.94 ERA in 3 starts, logging 16 innings.

Regardless of who wins the final two spots on the way north from Spring Training, the rotation should eventually be filled by Aaron Heilman, the pitcher with the highest ceiling of the three. Heilman, also the youngest, could use some seasoning at AAA Norfolk, and could come up later in the year if Middlebrook or Bacsik falter.

Another starter that may be seen at Shea is former top prospect Jae Seo. After undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 1999, Seo has been slow to regain the velocity that made him such a good prospect coming out of Korea. However, his trademark is now control, and could come up to take a spot start in the rotation or fill in the bullpen.

The late innings should feature lefty Jaime Cerda, who pitched in 33 1/3 innings for the Mets last year, but is still technically a rookie. He had a 2.45 ERA and looked solid, and, even though he is competing with veteran import Graeme Lloyd, should win a spot in the bullpen to start the season. If not, he will be up as soon as someone in the Mets' veteran pen goes down.


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