5 Mets players with something to prove in 2023

Winter is still in full swing, but baseball season is upon us. We’re almost a month away from Mets pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training in Port St. Lucie. It’s safe to say that New York still has some unfinished business.

The Amazins are fresh from a 101-win campaign and an early exit in their first postseason appearance since 2016. There are a few players who need to show that little extra in 2023. Here are five that land in this category and why.

Max Scherzer

There’s no escaping it — Max Scherzer’s impact on the Mets has been incredibly positive throughout 2022. And I speak both on the field and in the clubhouse. This is what happens when a future Hall of Famer and notorious first choice grinder joins your club.

Overall, Scherzer’s numbers were predictably dominant. Despite two injured-list trips, the right-hander posted an 11-5 record with a 2.29 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 30.6% strikeout rate and 4.2% walk rate in 145.1 innings. With Jacob deGrom limited to just 11 starts last year, Scherzer’s largely consistent presence (23 starts) for New York’s rotation has been huge.

But as good as those numbers were, his last two starts have left a sour taste in his (and fans’) mouths. First, it was his start against the Atlanta Braves in the penultimate series of the regular season. He allowed four runs for nine hits in 5.2 innings. That included two homers, marking the first time since May 1 that he had allowed more than one homer in a start. Then, of course, came his disastrous start in Game 1 against the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card Series. Scherzer allowed seven runs in 4.2 innings while giving up four home runs.

He may have another great regular season but fans will want to see Scherzer finish the job and be just as dominant in September and October. Especially since he earns more than $40 million a year.

Eduardo Escobar

For about three weeks, many Mets fans thought Carlos Correa would play third base in Flushing this spring. If that deal actually went through, Eduardo Escobar would have been on the trading block (which I didn’t think was a good idea anyway). Now that Correa has officially signed with the Minnesota Twins, the Mets’ situation at third base looks much the same as it did at the end of 2022.

Escobar appears to be establishing itself as a starter for now. However, Brett Baty will likely take his place at some point in the near future. If Baty doesn’t force the issue immediately, it’s up to Escobar to deliver the offense he committed in September and not what he did from April to August of last season.

Through August 28 (413 plate appearances), Escobar was .214/.266/.380 with 12 homers, 44 RBI and 41 runs scored, resulting in 83 wRC+. His last 129 trips to the plate were a .328/.388/.595 line with eight homers, 25 RBI and 17 runs scored. These numbers gave a 176 wRC+.

Escobar doesn’t need to repeat his late-season performance in 2023 (although that would be nice). But he could produce a 3.0 fWAR campaign if his offense is a bit more consistent. His personality has endeared him to the fanbase, and he would be even more so if he were close to repeating his finish in 2022.

Drew Smith

When the offseason began, Drew Smith was the only pitcher in the bullpen with significant big league experience. Luckily, he was quickly joined by other punching arms. These include Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino, Brooks Raley and David Robertson.

Smith made some strides in 46 innings last season. He posted a 28.3% strikeout rate and an 8.0% walk rate, making his 20.3% strikeout-to-walk ratio a career high in a single season. His 3.33 ERA and 1.15 WHIP were solid for his role outside of the pen, but the right-hander also finished with -0.1 fWAR. Part of that was due to allowing 1.76 home runs per nine innings of work.

The 29-year-old has two years left before he hits free agency. He enjoyed some solid stretches in 2022, and Smith could have a bigger role in middle relief bridging rotation to the back of the bullpen. The right-hander now gets a chance to show he’s capable of pulling it off from start to finish.

Francisco Alvarez

It’s hard for Mets fans not to fall in love with Francisco Alvarez. His pedigree with the best prospects helps, but I’m talking more about his confidence. Only 21 years old, he’s showing his personality has the spark needed to play (and succeed) in New York.

Although Alvarez didn’t play above High-A in 2022, Alvarez’s goal was to make it to the big leagues. He has achieved this goal. What about 2023? Alvarez expected to be on the opening day list. After getting a major upgrade on offense this winter, the young catcher could be an X-Factor for New York.

He may not don the tools of ignorance most days of the week, but he could make an impression as a designated hitter. These tasks are currently shared between Darin Ruf and Daniel Vogelbach, which could (again) become a problem for New York.

The Mets have been said to need more punch in their lineup. Alvarez has shown promise in that department while tearing pitching apart in the minor league. With only 45 games in Triple-A and a cup of coffee in the big leagues, is he ready for the bright lights of New York?

Alvarez will be covering Port St. Lucie with all the hype surrounding top prospects. He also needs to prove that now is his time to be a pivotal play for the Mets.

Brandon Nimmo

Aside from Aaron Judge, Brandon Nimmo was the best outfielder available on the free agent market. So it was great news that the Mets re-signed him, even if some think his $162 million asking price was too high. Talent is not a question for Nimmo. He’s dramatically improved his midfield defense while being an above-average leadoff hitter.

Forecasts assume that Nimmo will produce another year with 4.0 fWAR. The only question here is whether he can stay on the field for most of the year again. Since his debut in 2016, he has only appeared twice in more than 92 games. One happened in 2018 and the other in 2022, conveniently just before it came into the open.

He has produced at least 4.8 fWAR in each of these campaigns. So the results speak for themselves – if Nimmo plays regularly, he will come up with numbers. He just has to stay on the pitch. Putting together another healthy season will help him shed all the ‘injury-prone’ labels associated with the outfielder.

Matt Musico can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.

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