Spring Training has begun, games are being played, pitchers and hitters are preparing for the marathon ahead of them, and as always, Mets are dealing with injuries to key players early in camp.
Every Spring Training the Mets, like every team, deal with injuries. However, as I documented in my most recent article this season the Mets have some real depth in their system with proven players as the backup options.
So far, less than a week into games being played, the Mets have seen Jed Lowrie go down with a left knee capsule sprain that can keep him sidelined up to six weeks and may cause him to miss Opening Day. Lowrie was a key addition this offseason and he is expected to fill the two-hole in the lineup and start most games at third base when healthy.
Yesterday, news came out that Todd Frazier has a left oblique strain and may miss Opening Day as well, which means that the top two options on the third base depth chart for the Mets could be on the injured list to start the season. This will cause the Mets to dip into their very deep infield depth and allow players like Dom Smith, T.J. Rivera, J.D. Davis, Pete Alonso, and Adeiny Hechavarria, who are competing for roster spots, to have a better chance at cracking the Opening Day roster.
While Frazier and Lowrie are the top two options at third, Frazier was also a frontrunner to start the season across the diamond at first. This was likely unless Pete Alonso forced his way into the Opening Day lineup. So, if Frazier and Lowrie can’t get themselves healthy we will see just how strong the Mets infield depth is.
While the names I mentioned up above will have a better chance to make the Opening Day roster, the Mets will likely choose to move one of their projected outfielders into the infield. That’s right Jeff McNeil, who is spending Spring Training getting used to his new home in left field, would likely be moved into third base to start the season should Frazier and Lowrie need more time to recover.
The Mets want McNeil’s bat in the lineup badly, which is why they are converting him to the outfield, a place he hasn’t played with much regularity since his college days. If the Mets moved McNeil to third to start the season it would mean that center field would be played by Broxton and Lagares, at least until one of Frazier and Lowrie returned to action.
Over at first base, the situation is much more interesting. Pete Alonso is the player to watch this spring as he wants desperately to make the big league team out of camp. He has already shown he can hit as he has gone 3-9 with a two-run homer to start his Spring Training. His biggest flaw is his defense, but he is a workhorse who spent the entire offseason working on that part of the game and has been alright early in spring.
While virtually every fan is hoping for Alonso to crack the big league club to start the season, even if Frazier comes back before the end of spring, he does have competition. The biggest competition for the first base job (if Frazier is hurt) is Dom Smith, who was in the same position as Alonso last spring. Most have written Smith off after struggling all last season but the former top prospect is still only 23 and has not given up hope just yet.
Dom Smith knows it’s gut check time. He says he got reinvigorated when watching Patrick Mahomes dominate on Monday Night Football against the LA Rams. Mahomes is the same age as Smith and seeing his success helped Smith realize he can be successful too. This offseason Smith worked with the teams new hitting coach, Chili Davis and focused on becoming a better overall athlete.
Smith’s biggest strength is his defense and if he can hit this spring, as he did throughout his entire minor league career, he could beat Alonso out at first base.
The other players that will compete for these spots would still have an opportunity to make the big league roster as bench players. If the Mets put McNeil at third, Pete Alonso at first, and kept Smith on the bench for defensive purposes they would still have room for two more bench players to compliment their backup catcher and Broxton/Lagares.
Adeiny Hechavarria, J.D. Davis, T.J. Rivera, Gregor Blanco, Rajai Davis, and Luis Guillorme will compete for those spots.
The important thing to realize here is that the Mets would be able to fill the spots in the lineup with major league caliber starters and their bench with major league caliber talent.
McNeil can hit, which is why the Mets want to make him an outfielder to make their lineup as strong as possible, in this situation he would return to his more natural position of third base. Lagares and Broxton, who would platoon, are weak offensively, but their defense makes them solid everyday players as long as they can produce a little bit. Pete Alonso has the potential to be a 30 home run hitter and would add a much-needed force to their everyday lineup.
The players that would compete for the bench jobs, as I stated earlier, are major league caliber players. This is why the injuries to Frazier and Lowrie, though not ideal, are not the end of the world for the Mets. In recent seasons this would not be the case.
Will the Mets be able to handle other injuries to key players? Time will tell, but for now, the Mets don’t need to panic.