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Mets 101 Camp Battle Series: Fifth Starter

February 26th, 2014 at 12:09 PM
By Mike Phillips

This week at Mets 101, we are going to give you a look at some of the most important positional battles at training camp this season. While the New York Mets did upgrade their team by adding key free agents like Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon, they didn't find a true answer to all of their problem spots from last season. Today we will look at the deep competition for the final spot in the starting rotation.

The Favorite:

'David Wright with Jenrry Mejia Pitching' photo (c) 2010, slgckgc - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Jenrry Mejia: It's been a complete role reversal from Jenrry Mejia in the course of a year. At spring training last season, Mejia was an afterthought who was sidelined early on with an elbow injury. After a strong return to form last season, Mejia looked poised to seize a permanent job in the rotation prior to being shut down to undergo surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.

Mejia's promise gives him the inside track for the fifth starter's job this spring, but the Mets do have concerns about durability. Instead of handing the job to him right out of camp, Mejia will have to earn it in a competition with veterans and fellow youngsters. Mejia was the team's top pitching prospect himself at one point, and hopefully for the Mets he can stay healthy long enough to showcase some of that potential.

Next in Line:

John Lannan: Lannan signed a minor league deal with the Mets in the winter with an invitation to spring training. Lannan has had success in the National League East before, having spent the majority of his career with the Washington Nationals. Lannan struggled in hitter friendly Citizen's Bank Park last season, but he is hoping a move to pitcher friendly Citi Field will resurrect his career. Lannan has two things working for him: the fact that he is left handed and that he can eat innings. If the Mets feel that Mejia isn't ready to handle a full time starting role, Lannan can capably assume the job.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Matsuzaka actually finished last season in the Mets' rotation after being picked up as a free agent in August. Matsuzaka struggled in his first couple of starts with the Mets, but he picked up his game by the end of the season. After some hard work with pitching coach Dan Warthen, Matsuzaka went 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his final four starts, earning him a minor league deal to compete for the fifth starter's role. If Matsuzaka can show more of the same form that he had at the end of the 2013 season, he could force his way into the rotation.

The Long Shot:

Jacob DeGrom: DeGrom is one of the team's more underrated pitching prospects. DeGrom was added to the team's 40 man roster last winter, and finished last year with Triple-A Las Vegas. DeGrom only made 14 starts for the 51's, so it is likely that he will be sent back to Triple-A for more seasoning. 

The Sleeper: 

Rafael Montero: The surprise story of camp so far has been starting pitcher Rafael Montero. Montero, who is the organization's second best pitching prospect, has drawn raves from pitching coach Dan Warthen about his smooth mechanics. Those mechanics have led to Montero developing impeccable control, piling up an impressive 150:35 strikeout to walk ratio between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas last season. Montero is slated to start the team's Grapefruit League Opener on Friday, but he is likely ticketed for Triple-A to start the year. Montero, however, appears to have a chance to force the issue if he dominates the competition this spring.

Who Wins?

This competition is probably going to be the most exciting one throughout spring training. The Mets have a lot of interesting options to explore with the fifth starter's spot, and it would be hard for them to choose incorrectly since all of these players will likely spend some time with the Mets this season. Most Mets brass would probably admit they want Mejia to grab the job, but manager Terry Collins has talked up Lannan and Matsuzaka as viable options in recent days. Given the current state of affairs, Mets 101 is projecting that John Lannan will end up winning that spot out of spring training so the Mets can keep him around (he can opt out of his deal if he isn't in the majors in the next two months) and transition him to a swingman role if a youngster is ready to be called up.

Just because the Super Bowl left NY/NJ it doesn't mean the NFL action is over. Come see the Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Liberty Science Center see jerseys worn by legends, make the tough call under the hood, try on equipment and get immersed into football like never before.

Just because the Super Bowl left NY/NJ it doesn't mean the NFL action is over. Come see the Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Liberty Science Center see jerseys worn by legends, make the tough call under the hood, try on equipment and get immersed into football like never before.

Tags: Baseball, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacob DeGrom, Jenrry Mejia, John Lannan, MLB, New York, New York Mets, Rafael Montero

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