By Steve Silverman
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It all starts with the pitching, and for the first time in recent memory, the New York Mets have it.
Well, they may not have enough of it to make the 2014 season a rousing success, despite Sandy Alderson’s talk of a 90-win season, but the Mets have the pitching prospects to give this team a legitimate foundation that should have a major impact by midseason.
There is legitimate reason for long-term optimism concerning a team once known for its miraculous performances. Mets fans can recite the legacies of the 1969 and 1986 championship teams like a mantra, and while the thought of Tom Seaver’s wondrous team and the Keith Hernandez-Gary Carter ‘86ers can still provide warm memories, both are long-closed chapters in the team’s history.
Mets fans finally have a lot to look forward to, and it’s not just the much-ballyhooed Noah Syndergaard who is worthy of attention. Syndergaard has all the tools to become the great equalizer, and when you see it all in a 6-foot-6, 240-pound package, it’s hard not to take notice.
He’s got the tools with his 95-plus miles per hour fastball and a nasty hook that breaks about three feet, and Terry Collins loves him. Collins would probably like to have him in the starting rotation from the start of the season, but he’s almost certainly going to get a couple of months of Triple-A seasoning before the Mets call him up in June.
That’s the way it is now, because teams don’t want the clock to start ticking on a prospect too soon. He’ll be pitching Monday against the Atlanta Braves, and he will give Mets fans and National League hitters what they can expect to see over the next decade.
While Syndergaard is an imposing physical specimen, Dominican-born Rafael Montero is anything but. At 6-foot-0, 160-pounds Montero doesn’t appear to have the strength to become a dominant pitcher, but he can still bring the heat with a fastball that reaches 94 miles per hour.
Montero has a shot at making the big-league roster straight out of spring training by winning the last bullpen spot, but the chances are he will start the year at Triple-A and then get the call later in the season. With his heat and picture-perfect mechanics, he also has a chance to be the kind of pitcher who Collins can count on once he gets summoned to the Mets.
The Mets are lacking in left-handed pitching, and that’s why Jack Leathersich is so important. Leathersich knows how to set up hitters and he appears to have the kind of tools that will allow him to come up with the big strikeout whenever he needs it.
While Leathersich has a problem with control, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before he comes around in that area and starts making a consistent contribution. Leathersich is not just a lefty-for-lefty kind of pitcher. He made right-handed batters look silly at the Double-A level last year.
He has a chance to make the team this spring, but a partial season in the minors might be what is needed to get a handle on his command and control.
Relief pitcher Jeff Walters had 38 saves last year with Binghamton in Double-A, and he had a 2.09 ERA as well as 60 strikeouts in 56 innings. That kind of production is going to get a pitcher noticed, and it will give him an opportunity to make the big club.
Walters does it with a fastball that reaches the low 90s and a sharp slider that hits the mid-to-upper 80s. Those are tools that are going to cause a lot of problems for hitters, no matter what level he is pitching at.
Walters will most likely need some time at Triple-A to work on his control and further hone his skills, but he’s so competitive that he has a shot to either win a job during the spring or get called up relatively early in the year.
There’s no reason to count out Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Cory Mazzoni or Logan Verrett, either. But it’s Syndergaard, Montero, Leathersich and Walters who should be getting Mets fans amped up.
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