By Brad Kallet
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Opening day is less than two weeks away, and if you’re a Mets fan there are legitimate reasons for optimism.
That said, in the spirit of the upcoming season, I proudly present my annual preseason awards.
Based on a combination of statistical research, projections, past performances and good old gut feelings, these predictions are far from an exact science. A lot can, and always does, change over the course of a marathon 162-game season, and that’s why they play the games. Before it begins to count for real, I’m taking the crystal ball out one last time.
So without further ado…
MVP (Position Player): Yoenis Cespedes — Cespedes is contractually secure, at peace in New York and laser-focused. He’s also destroying the ball this spring. The two-time All-Star is batting .424 with five home runs and nine RBIs, and while he obviously won’t keep up that pace once the real season starts, there’s no reason to think he can’t hit .290 with 35 homers and 110 RBIs. Cespedes recently said his goal is to win the MVP. He might just do it.
Honorable Mention: Neil Walker
MVP (Pitcher): Noah Syndergaard — Thor has been battling bronchitis throughout camp, and last month former MLB pitching coach Tom House said the right-hander, who gained 17 pounds of muscle in the offseason, is an “injury waiting to happen.” Both of those issues, I must admit, concern me. But back in reality, the fact remains that Syndergaard is currently healthy and in line to start the season opener on April 3. The new face of the Mets’ staff established himself as one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League last year, and there’s no reason to think it was a fluke. His jaw-dropping stuff is that good. Twenty wins, if he doesn’t miss more than five starts, isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Honorable Mention: Jacob deGrom
Biggest Disappointment (Offense): David Wright — As much as it pains me to write it, the captain takes this honor (or dishonor) for the second straight season. He just can’t stay on the field, and nobody knows when, or if, he’ll return. I presume it will be at some point in 2017, but even then, how long will he last before inevitably going down again? Wright needs several hours to stretch out in preparation of each game, and can no longer play every day. When he does take the field, he’s a shell of his former self. It’s sad to watch, and I sincerely hope I’m wrong about one of the most important players in franchise history.
Honorable Mention: Jay Bruce
Biggest Disappointment (Pitcher): Jeurys Familia — In late July, Familia had his streak of consecutive saves snapped at 52. He wasn’t elite after that and, come to think of it, I’m not sure that he was elite in the preceding four months. Yes, his stuff is electric, and he’s remarkable at playing Houdini and getting out of serious trouble by virtue of the clutch strikeout. But the imposing closer was in trouble game in and game out in 2016, and he won’t be as lucky this year. Nobody could be. He’ll also have to ease his way back upon returning from an expected early-season suspension, which will get his campaign off on the wrong foot.
Honorable Mention: Matt Harvey
Comeback Player of the Year (Hitter): Michael Conforto — I’m not sure where the 24-year-old outfielder will start the season, or spend the first couple months. On the bench? In the minors? Starting? What I am confident of, though, is that wherever Conforto winds up, he’ll hit. The former first-round pick batted third to start 2016 and was excellent for most of April, but his struggles against lefties derailed his season and forced him out of the lineup. Conforto is just too talented an offensive player to be that unproductive again. He’s currently the odd man out in a crowded outfield, but if he swings like he did in 2015 manager Terry Collins will find him at-bats.
Honorable Mention: Lucas Duda
Comeback Player of the Year (Pitcher): Jacob deGrom — DeGrom wasn’t bad in 2016 (7-8, 3.04 ERA, 143 strikeouts in 148 innings), but he wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in 2014 and 2015. Hampered by forearm and elbow injuries, the right-hander had a difficult time staying on the mound and getting in a rhythm. But there’s reason for optimism. DeGrom has looked like his All-Star self in Port St. Lucie, hitting 97 mph on the gun and exhibiting his trademark pinpoint command. “It’s just like a video game with him,” Kevin Plawecki said of catching the 28-year-old this spring. In 15 1/3 innings in Florida, deGrom allowed five runs, just 12 hits and has recorded 17 strikeouts to just two walks. DeGrom is as strong of a rebound candidate as anyone.
Honorable Mention: Steven Matz
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet