Mets Merized Online » Interviews http://metsmerizedonline.com Mon, 20 Feb 2017 14:06:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.18 MMO Exclusive Interview: 2016 First Rounder Justin Dunn http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mmo-exclusive-interview-rhp-justin-dunn.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mmo-exclusive-interview-rhp-justin-dunn.html/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2017 17:00:48 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=231288 justin dunn 3

The New York Mets added yet another high upside pitcher to their system last year, drafting and signing Boston College right-hander Justin Dunn in the first round of the MLB Draft (19th overall).

The Freeport native grew up just thirty minutes from Shea Stadium and Citi Field, attending many games as a youth. Dunn, 21, has the chance to one day join LHP Steven Matz as being able to pitch in one’s back yard, so to speak, as Matz grew up about an hour from where he makes his living in Queens, born and raised in Stony Brook, New York.

Dunn is an intriguing prospect, having pitched both out of BC’s pen and in the starting rotation throughout his three seasons there, posting a combined record of 9-7, with a 3.67 ERA in 45 games, 15 of those starts. Dunn had his most successful season as a junior in 2016, where he posted a 2.06 ERA (4th in BC’s history for single-season records), and had career bests in WHIP (1.07), K/9 (9.87), IP (65.2), and games started (8).

Upon signing with the Mets on June 21, the team assigned the hard throwing righty to Brooklyn, where he appeared in 11 games, eight starts, posting a minuscule 1.50 ERA over 30 innings. Dunn held opponents to a .227 average, and struck out 10.5 batters per nine.

The hype is certainly warranted for Justin Dunn, MMO’s sixth best prospect for 2017, as he features a mid-nineties fastball that touches 97, a slider, curve and changeup. The Mets limited his innings in 2016, as he began tossing just two innings for the Cyclones before transitioning to the starting rotation, where he was capped at three innings of work.

Dunn also ranked twice in this offseason’s Top 100 prospect rankings with his highest being #84 by Keith Law.

I had the privilege of speaking to Justin earlier in the week, where we discussed the draft, playing close to home, and an awesome dunk tank story!

MMO - Hey Justin, thanks for taking some time to speak with me today. What was draft night like for you? Many Met fans have seen the video of you with your Boston College teammates celebrating at a sports bar when you heard the news, can you talk a bit about that night and the emotions you felt?

Justin - That night was awesome. We were down in Miami playing in a super regional for the first time in school history, so going down there for that weekend we knew it was draft day, we knew I had a chance to go in the first round. But we also knew we were doing something that had never been done in school history so there was a lot of different emotions going on. We had just finished up practice that night, and coach decided to have a team dinner.

We went over to Duffy’s Sports Bar in Miami; we sit down, long night, long stressful night. Kept waiting to hear my name called, pick after pick not hearing it and then to come down to 18 and 19 and see the Mets and the Yankees right there (Yankees had the 18th pick) that’s two New York teams, and then to see that the Mets were the team that drafted me was honestly a dream come true because being a pitcher you can’t beat this organization.

And growing up in Long Island, I’ve been to more Mets games than I can count, probably more than my own games. I was very familiar with the Mets and I love being home in New York, so that video was raw emotion of how excited I was to become a Met and start my career.

MMO - Did you have any inclination that the Mets had interest in you prior to the draft?

Justin - No that’s what made it even cooler, that video was raw. I didn’t get a phone call that was… I saw my name on the screen when all the Mets fans did and I jumped up in pure excitement. It’s a dream come true to have the potential to be playing thirty minutes from home to where my parents hop on the Cross Island and head straight into Queens.

MMO - The Dodgers drafted you in 2013 in the 37th round; did going through the draft process back then make it any easier for you last year?

Justin - Yeah for sure, I mean at that point in my career I was in a little bit different place. I was a buck fifty maybe, five-ten, and I wasn’t in a situation to where I was ready to go play with grown men that were 21-22 years-old like I am now.

Going into the draft I knew I needed to mature and I was most likely going to college unless someone came with an offer that I couldn’t refuse. So for that day it was just more of a learning (process), and getting used to the experience because I knew at some point in my college career I would go through it again. So for me, it was more learning what interest is and the process itself for draft day and how to handle the punches and things like that, and it was just an honor that the Dodgers even called my name because they didn’t have to.

MMO - Speaking of your time at college, can you talk a little bit about your experience attending Boston College, and how it prepared you for where you are now in your professional career?

Justin - If it wasn’t for BC I wouldn’t be where I am today. We had some great coaches come in: Coach Foster came in my sophomore year, and my freshman year I had Coach Friedholm as pitching coaches so I was fortunate enough to have two outstanding pitching coaches during my college career. And Coach Gambino, our head coach, he helped shape me into the man I am today, and put the morals and values that I have and the way I carry myself as a person, a lot of it is because of him and my parents.

On the field wise, my game kind of went to the next level when Coach Foster came in and broke down the mental side of the game for me. I’m a very mental player, I like to know my hitters well and have a good, lengthy scouting report going into the game, so that was something he taught me how to do; how to read a swing in the middle of an at-bat, how to sit down the night before and analyze a lineup and understand how to attack a lineup the first time through and be able to save a pitch for the second and third time through the order. It helped me go through all of my outings when I became a starter because I understood what he was doing, calling a game, and it made my job as well as his job a little bit easier.

MMO - I read a report on NY Daily News last year, where your dad recollects that you two went into an arcade and he couldn’t hit the dunk tank target. However, you hit the target three times in a row at a young age. Is that true?

Justin - (Laughs) One hundred percent true. We were at Dave & Buster’s and I think I was six years old. He (his dad) always likes to think that I throw the way I do because of him, so he was like ‘all right come here and watch this, I’m going to dunk this lady’. So I’m just sitting there at six years old watching him, and he goes 0-for-3. So I was like let me try, and he was like ‘no you’re not going to be able to do it’ and was like just let me try dad. And he paid the three dollars or whatever it was for three balls, and there was like a clown or somebody, or some dude sitting in the tank, and I think he called me ‘Little Bow Wow’ or something like that.

Just making fun of me, and the first ball I threw I squared it up, just knocked him straight down, and he got up and said ‘you can’t do it again’. Boom straight down (for the second time). Then he kind of got quiet, and there was a big crowd starting to circle because everybody was going nuts because I was this little kid dunking this clown that nobody else was able to dunk two times in a row and I did it again. So that was pretty funny, and then we ended up going to a carnival again a few years later and the same thing, and I dunked them like three-four times in a row.

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MMO - Was that your earliest baseball memory?

Justin - Honestly, my earliest memory was watching my dad play, he never played at a high level, but that was his passion. Going to watch his games, I think I was five or six, he would go play in a men’s league, and he’d bring me up and I’d be the bat boy for the team. But they would take me out there and let me catch groundballs, take some swings off the tee, stuff like that. And just seeing the fun he had, it was something we could share together, and I knew it was something I wanted to do from a very young age.

MMO - Growing up on Long Island, who were some of your favorite players to watch, and do you have any that you style your game after today?

Justin - I grew up a Yankee fan, so I grew up in the era of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, all those guys, Tino Martinez, so obviously being a New York Yankees fan you’ve got to have Jeter as their favorite player. And I loved David Wright too , I did love David Wright growing up, loved the way he carried himself. Mariano RiveraAndy Pettitte, just that whole New York core on both sides I loved all those guys.

And then now, I don’t really model myself after a single person to be honest, because at the level I’m at now I’m not a fan anymore. So I just like to watch good baseball, so I try to take bits and pieces from everybody because everyone at that level is where I want to be, so they all do something that I don’t know how to do yet. So I try to learn from them, and I just sit back and watch the game and look at things that I’m not doing that they’re doing that helps them get hitters out at that level, because it takes a lot of talent to do that against the best hitters in the world.

MMO - Growing up, did you pitch at an early age? What other positions did you play?

Justin - No, I was small like I said, so I didn’t always throw very hard. I mean I threw decent speed for how old I was, but it wasn’t enough for teams to be like you’re just a pitcher and going to come in and pitch for us. I was actually a middle infielder growing up. And our college coach kind of recruited me that way and said you’re going to be a middle infielder.

Coach Gambino (BC head coach) came to a game, and I’ll never forget it, they brought me into pitch, I forgot why, and he saw me warming up on the side and he’s like ‘drop your arm down a little bit, go at three-quarters, throw like your throwing from shortstop, don’t throw over the top’. And I went into that game and that was the first time I hit 90 at like 16-17 years-old and from then on he was like ‘all right I think he’s a pitcher’. But if you were to ask me when I was younger I thought I was going to be a shortstop. I always loved pitching, but I would’ve said I’m a better defensive player than I am pitcher.

MMO - Were you a decent hitter growing up?

Justin - No I was pretty bad. I’ll mess with people and tell them I was good, I mean I could get the job done, but definitely wasn’t the best though.

MMO - Once you were drafted and signed by the Mets, you started your career in Brooklyn. Tell me about that experience and what it was like pitching so close to home and in front of friends and family.

Justin - Yeah I mean you said it, being able to start my professional career 45 minutes from my house to where I had family and friends coming to see me play that haven’t seen my play since I was 12 years-old. To have close to 15-20 people at every game that I was pitching in was awesome. To come out and see familiar faces, to see my mom, see my dad, see my brother, and then to also have a great group of guys that we had in Brooklyn, it made my first year awesome. And I thought it was a great learning experience for me as a player, I learned a lot about pro ball, (I) have a lot more to learn, but I felt like it was a pretty good grasp for my first season and I was pretty happy with it.

MMO - Can you give me a quick scouting report on yourself for fans that might be new to you? What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?

Justin - Me as a pitcher, I like to consider myself a pitcher with power stuff, where I’m not just going to throw 100 percent fastballs and try to throw it by you, I’m still a pitcher where I have three other pitches that I can come at you with. And I understand how to use all four of them.

But my weakness I would say is my changeup right now. It’s something that we started to develop in college and contributed a lot to my success at school. It was just another pitch for me to help get lefties and righties out, keep people off my fastball and make my fastball that much more effective. So the development of that, and tightening up my slider a little bit and understanding when to use it, when not to use it , when to make it tight when I want to spin it for a stike. Just things like that, the ins and outs of pitching that I didn’t really know before. But I would say I’m definitely a hard thrower who understands how to pitch.

MMO - You pitched out of the pen and started in college, do you have a preference when it comes to starting or relieving?

Justin - Yeah a lot of people ask me that, no I love to pitch. I just love being on the field and that was one of the things that held me back from loving pitching so much when I was younger because I couldn’t pitch everyday, but I could play infield everyday and I just loved being on the field. So for me it’s wherever you need me on the field and wherever I’m going to get a chance to play and do what I love, I’m fine with it.

In college, Coach said you should be a starter but we need you in the back end of the pen to close some games for us in the beginning of the season and I said that’s fine. Whatever’s going to help us win games is what I’m happy with because at the end of the day it’s all about winning, so I don’t have a preference at all, whatever the Mets see me as is what they see me as and I can’t control that and I just want to help (them) win, so whatever it takes to do that, I’ll do.

MMO - What’s the offseason been like for you? What’s a normal training day for you?

Justin - So I came down to Florida for this offseason, I’ve been working out at Cressey Performance in Jupiter. I’ve been working out with Eric (trainer) since I was a freshman in college, he was the start of me working out, and start putting some velocity on my fastball and my body thawing out a little bit. So I came down here with one of my teammates from college, Mike King, and we’ve been working out six days a week.

We throw in the mornings, throwing pens – I threw my sixth pen yesterday (Monday Feb 13), but it’s been going well. I’ve put on about ten-fifteen pounds this offseason, which is always nice, so I mean I’m happy with it and I’m excited to see how it translates into the spring.

MMO - Now every year there’s always the top prospects lists that come out from Keith Law, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, etc. You’ve made a lot of these lists this year, which must be awesome to see considering you’ve only thrown 30 professional innings. Do you pay close attention to these lists, and what does it mean to you when you see your name listed among the game’s best prospects?

Justin - Yeah I mean it’s awesome, I try not to look into it honestly because there’s a lot of other things that go into the decision making in the front office that aren’t about those lists. So at the end of the day my focus is just going out there and performing and trying to put up some numbers because if you put up numbers then it’s hard to ignore you. The lists are great honors and I’m very appreciative to be on those lists with the great talents in minor league baseball and be mentioned with some of them. But I try not to let them get to my head too much and stay grounded and just keep working hard.

MMO - Thank you again Justin for taking some time to answer some questions, all Mets fans are excited to see your progression and we’ll be rooting for you.

Justin - No problem, thanks for reaching out.

Follow Justin Dunn on Twitter, @Dunn_Deal19

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MMO Exclusive Interview: First Base Prospect Peter Alonso http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mmo-exclusive-interview-first-base-prospect-peter-alonso.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mmo-exclusive-interview-first-base-prospect-peter-alonso.html/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 15:30:51 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=230791 peter alonso

After selecting Justin Dunn and Anthony Kay in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, the New York Mets continued the trend of drafting college players with their second round selection (64th overall) of first baseman, Peter Alonso out of the University of Florida.

The six-foot-three, right-handed, slugging first baseman is an intriguing force at the plate, combining raw power and a shortened swing to use the whole field to his advantage at the plate. Speaking with the 22-year-old Tampa native, I immediately got the impression of a player with a terrific work regimen, a simple approach at the plate, and a willingness to strive to be great.

Following the draft, the Mets assigned Alonso to the Brooklyn Cyclones, where he began in grand fashion, carrying a seven-game hitting streak from July 9 to July 15. Unfortunately, Alonso would be relegated to the disabled list following the August 9th game against the Vermont Lake Monsters, where he suffered a broken right pinky finger while trying to avoid a tag at second base.

In all, Alonso played in 30 games with Brooklyn, slashing .321/.382/.587 (led the Cyclones in SLG), with five home runs (tied for the team lead with Brandon Brosher), 21 RBI, 11 walks, and 20 runs scored in 109 at-bats. Here at MMO/MMN, we rated Alonso as the 12th best prospect in the Mets’ organization, however, I have a feeling that after a full healthy season this year, Alonso will become more of a household name for fans, and an intriguing force at the plate to keep an eye on as he progresses throughout the system.

I had the privilege to speak with Alonso earlier this week, and we talked about a wide range of topics, from his draft night experience with his family, to his time with Brooklyn last year, and even a good recommendation for a chicken joint in Brooklyn!

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MMO - What was the moment like when you heard your name selected by the New York Mets in the 2nd round of the 2016 Draft? Were you with family and friends when you heard the news?

Pete - Well I was with my parents, both my parents, my little brother Alex, and my girlfriend Hailey. And for draft night I was home, I just wanted to get away from the craziness… And we were practicing (Florida Gators) getting ready for Super Regional, I mean it was a pretty hectic week to say the least, but I just kind of wanted to get away and be with my immediate loved ones and it was definetly the most surreal experience and hearing my name called.

Like I, I just started to cry and I gave my girlfriend the biggest hug ever and gave both my mom and dad a hug. It was so anxiety filled that whole day, but then after my name was called it was just a huge sigh of relief and just a feeling, like my body was tingling, it was just an unbelievable experience to get drafted on the first day, and I’m extremely thankful I got drafted by such a great organization and I’m all in and I’m going to give the Mets everything I’ve got.

MMO - It must’ve been almost an out of body experience, to hear your name called on TV and be drafted by the Mets, something you’ve worked your whole life to reach.

Pete - Yeah it was definitely a dream come true and I couldn’t be happier. I’m just extremely happy and last year got to work real quick and this year I just look to continue off of it, and build off my last first season. So, I’m just really excited for this first full year in pro ball, my first spring training, and I’m just ready to get after it.

MMO - If you had to write a scouting report on yourself, especially for fans that may not know a lot about you, how would you describe your strengths and weaknesses?

Pete - Well, definitely my biggest strength is my bat, but also to go with that, one thing I take pride in is my aggressive approach at the plate. I have a real simple but aggressive approach: if I see a ball that is remotely in my zone, or if I see a pitch that I think I can drive, I’m going to swing at it, or I’m going to take a chance that I’m going to take a good hack at it. Also, at the same token, if you’re a good pitcher then I guess you can use a hitter’s aggressiveness against them, so that’s definitely one of the big things.

For me, once I get that pitch, one of the things I’ve been working on most is capitalizing on the pitches I can drive the most because if I miss that pitch, you may end up getting one pitch an at-bat, or even one pitch per game that you can really do damage with just depending on how good the pitcher is that day, but I mean if the pitcher can really execute then that definitely helps them out with my aggressive approach.

MMO - Growing up in Tampa, Florida who were some of your favorite players to watch, and any that you style your game after today? Do you have any good comparisons or heard of any given to you?

Pete - Well for me the ideal comp, I know it’s kind of embarrassing but I didn’t know who he was until I got to college, I was hitting in the cage one day and Coach O’ Sullivan called me Paul Konerko, and I looked him up on YouTube and saw how great of a player he was, and for me he’s just a big right-right first baseman that can drive the ball, extremely good with the glove, and that’s kind of my best player comp. Also a guy that I like watching now is Paul Goldschmidt and I try to emulate my game after him because he’s just an unbelievable defensive first baseman, he can change the game by either one swing or just an unbelievable defensive play and he just has such a great presence on the field. I love watching Goldy.

MMO - You and your Florida teammates had tremendous success in college, how did the time there help shape and prepare you for where you are now in your career?

Pete - Well college taught me how to put the work in in the right way and realize what I need to work on. As a freshmen coming in it’s like ‘oh you need to work on your hitting’  ’you need to work everything you can a little more specialized’. And I feel like going to college I was a good player throughout my life, and I was kind of more raw and toolsy but going to college definetly helped me refine some of the things in my game, like defense is one of the biggest things ever.

I’m sure you’ve heard reports or whatever, but in high school I had a bad rap for being bad defensively, but I completely changed that. Throughout my college career I was struggling a little bit freshmen year but after that I decided that you know what, I’m tired of it and I’m going to make a change, and I made an extremely, extremely huge conscious effort just to never be labeled as that guy again. And for me also, work on approach things like at the plate, analyze scouting reports better, just nitty gritty things just to help me be more refined and more mature as a player.

MMO - You played primarily third base in high school and then you transitioned to first base in college, is that right?

Pete - Yeah, I played third base in high school and I mean in college, my freshmen year I played a couple of games at third, and then eventually it just turned into we needed a first baseman, and I’m just a corner guy. I think I got a pretty good arm, I’ve got an arm that can be effective at third base and I know that, I know that I have a pretty good arm for a first baseman, and a lot of people told me that’s pretty rare to see. And for me, it’s just making that transition pretty easy, it’s just understanding the game from the first base position because it’s a totally different game.

The game changes for what position you play because it’s just how you perceive everything differently just from a position, because it’s a different game from the shortstop to third base, it’s a different game, it’s crazy. There’s just different little things you need to know and understand for each little description of the position. Understanding that and how it works, I mean it’s very similar to third but also you have to be better communicating with pitchers, second baseman, coverage, different double-play depths, talking to your shortstop, and talking to the catcher.

I feel like you’re a little bit more involved at first, and you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel a little bit more, but I find I adjusted fantastically and I’m just happy that I’ve accomplished so much defensively and I’m only going to get better, because that’s one of the things that I like to stress the most because one thing I learned at the University of Florida from Coach Brad Weitzel is offense can get you in the lineup, but defense keeps you in the lineup.

MMO - To follow up with that, given the situation the Mets are in with the health of David Wright at third, if the Mets asked you to go back to third and take reps at the hot corner, would you feel comfortable transitioning back?

Pete - Of course, I’d take reps wherever they want me, if they wanted me at catch, pitch, play shortstop, center field I don’t care I just want to play.

MMO - You got off to an extremely fast start in Brooklyn, carrying a 7-game hitting streak in your first seven games there. What’s the transition like from going to college to the minor leagues in such a quick fashion as you did? Not to mention coming off the injury you sustained on May 13 when you fractured your fifth metacarpal against Vanderbilt.

Pete - Well I think that being in Brooklyn was awesome because I really enjoyed that group of guys. And I played with or against some of the guys, I played against Blake Tiberi in the Cape (Cape Cod League), I played against Jay Jabs. Desmond Lindsay, he’s a local Florida guy from Bradenton which is 45 minutes down South. I played with Thomas Szapucki in travel ball in high school. I played against Michael Paez in the (College) World Series. And Colby Woodmansee, and Brandon Brosher, we played in high school and prospect showcases and stuff like that together, so it’s not like I didn’t know some of the guys, there were a bunch of familiar faces.

MMO - So having the familiar faces has to make the transition easier.

Pete - Yeah it was a nice easy transition and it was really cool getting to learn some Spanish and stuff like that from some of the Latin guys, I mean it’s interesting, you know? And it’s just a more diverse group of people that I feel like we had an awesome group of guys, and that’s what made it an easy transition. Sometimes it’s not about where you are, it’s who you’re with, and we had a great group of guys. So for me I loved it, I had  a great coaching staff, Tom Gamboa (former Cyclones MGR) was awesome, and Sean Ratliff (Hitting Coach) it was awesome working with him, and of course Edgardo Alfonzo (2017 Cyclones MGR), having him around, being a Mets’ great is just absolutely fantastic and being able to pick his brain, and being able to go to the field and go to work everyday was just awesome and just being around them.

MMO - And when you were playing with Brooklyn did you get the chance to explore NYC much? What are your initial thoughts on the city?

Pete - It’s definitely different but I loved it. On an off day, me and my girlfriend we went to the 9/11 Museum and it was fantastic, absolutely fantastic, that was definitely one of my favorite museums for sure. We also did the Circle Line tour, took the boat around the island of Manhattan which was pretty cool. We got to see different sights and stuff. We went to the Statue of Liberty, we went to Times Square and that was a madhouse (laughs). But my favorite part about New York City is the food, I am such a food guy it’s unbelievable.

MMO - What’s your go-to meal?

Pete - I don’t have one, everything is good.

MMO - No favorite pre-game meal then?

Pete - No, I just like anything that’s tasty, like for me if it’s chicken, steak, pork I don’t care, I am not picky whatsoever. If you make something that’s good I’ll eat it.

MMO - Well you’re in a great city for that man, you have such a diversity of cuisine and everything around, you’ll love it.

Pete - Yeah and it doesn’t matter where you go either, like every deli and every sandwich shop is just as good as the other, it’s fantastic, love it! But my favorite place is Pies and Thighs, it’s a little out of the way from the team hotel (in Brooklyn) kind of in that hipster area right by the bridge, it’s probably about five minutes away from DUMBO, but Pies and Thighs is amazing. It’s the best chicken biscuit you’ll ever have in your life, and I’m from the south so…”

MMO - Your numbers with RISP w/ Brooklyn were insane, you posted a 1.341 OPS w/ 16 RBI in those situations. How do you stay so locked in during those moments, and what’s your approach at the plate with runners on?

Pete - For me I just love getting guys in, I mean that’s what the Mets drafted me to do. For organizations that preach the long ball or whatever, I don’t really.. for me I think the whole point of having a four hole hitter, like you could hit zero home runs but if you have 100 plus RBIs then you’re a run producer, it doesn’t matter.

I’m sure that’s not going to happen, but for me it’s just, ‘I’ve got to get my guys in’. And that’s just what I take pride in and you have to make it personal with the pitcher because he’s got a job too, he’s getting paid to get outs and I’m trying to get paid to get guys in, so it’s just a battle of wills. It’s just mental toughness and I take pride in getting my guys in and coming up clutch in the moment, and that’s what every kid dreams of doing, I’m just lucky enough to get paid for doing that.

MMO - What do you do in the offseason to prepare for the upcoming season? For fans that are curious how players train, can you take me into a normal day or routine for yourself?

Pete - Well for me I wake up and drop my girlfriend off at work and then after that I go lift, throw, hit, and after that eat lunch. Then do some chores around the apartment and do whatever I need to do and pick my girlfriend up from work. And it’s kind of like an 8-5 job because I get my work done, get my lift in, hit for an hour, got to throw, and then some days it may not be hitting it may be taking 100 plus groundballs, doing some base running or conditioning, it just varies from day to day. But the main thing I’ve been working on is trying to transform my body, and I want to come back as big and strong and fast as I possibly can.

Just come back in the best possible shape I can, and I want to transform my body into I guess a big league body, and I just want to be able to make an immediate impact, like the first day of Spring Training I want people to think ‘wow, Pete worked out on the offseason and he’s ready to get after it.

That’s what I want people to think because for me I pride myself on working hard, and I just want people to understand how hard I work and just let them know that no matter what I’m always going to bust my butt and trying to make something happen.  And if it doesn’t that’s fine, at least I can go to bed at night knowing I put my all in it. And for me, I just work hard day in and day out whether it’s in conditioning, lifting, hitting, throwing, fielding; I just take pride in everything I do and how I play the game. I know I got a little bit left, but the itch is real right now and I can’t wait to get back out there.

MMO - Well I can speak for most Mets fans that we’re really excited for you and see how you do, we’re rooting for you and we’ll be watching, thanks again for taking the time to talk today Pete.

Pete - Thank you, I appreciate you reaching out and hopefully you’ll ask for another one down the road.

Follow Pete on Twitter: @PeterAlonso20

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MMO Exclusive: Keith Law Talks Mets Prospects, Season Outlook with Metsmerized Online http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mmo-exclusive-keith-law-talks-mets-prospects-with-metsmerized-online.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mmo-exclusive-keith-law-talks-mets-prospects-with-metsmerized-online.html/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 01:00:56 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=230674 MLB Trade Deadline Special - July 31, 2013

Hey MMO Community, it’s been awhile. We’ve reached early February, which means a few things. It means we’ve reached the point in the season where my excitement for Knicks Basketball turns into disgust and depression.

On the bright side, it also means we’ve reached the point where I start getting geared up for some baseball. More specifically, it means we’ve reached the point where Keith Law, a lead baseball analyst for ESPN.com and one of the top player evaluation experts in the industry, has released his MLB Top 100 Prospect Rankings as well as his team-by-team rankings and positional rankings.

For the past two years, Keith’s been kind enough to give me and MMO an exclusive interview to discuss his rankings and evaluations with us as it pertains to the Mets, and he was generous enough to do so again this year. Keith gave me about 30 minutes of his time despite us only being scheduled for 15, and he didn’t even ask me to promote his book (although I threw a question in there at the end out of genuine interest).

I want to give a big shoutout to Keith, and invite you to check out what we discussed, including: Amed Rosario, Dom Smith and other key Mets  prospects, the MLB aces and guys like Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, Matt Harvey’s future, the outfield logjam and Michael Conforto in particular, the infield and some surprising thoughts on Asdrubal Cabrera, the situation behind the plate with Travis d’Arnaud, and, of course, an outlook for the fast-approaching 2017 season. Without further ado…

amed rosario

Tommy Rothman, MetsMerized Online:  Hey Keith, thanks so much for doing this again this year. So first of all, you just released your top 100 rankings, and your team-by-team rankings, and positional lists. Obviously guys like Amed Rosario (#3) and Dominic Smith (#29) have been there before, and nobody was surprised to see them. But there are some other guys on the list who are newer to the farm system, including guys we just drafted, so I want to talk about them as well.

I guess we’ll start with Rosario and Smith. Rosario, I know you’ve been high on him for years, and the rest of the prospect-scouting world is kind of catching up to that a bit, he was also 5th on the MLB.com list. And then Smith, I think you actually had in the exact same slot as last year. Regarding Rosario, is this ranking a reflection that you’re higher on him than you were, or just that he’s closer to being ready?

Keith Law, ESPN: He’s closer to being ready. He’s continued to meet and exceed expectations for his age. Also with young shortstops, with a guy like that, I want to be sure the body’s gonna stay there too. Sometimes they just get bigger than you expect, and I’m not worried about that with him. I mean, he’s gonna be a big shortstop, there’s a lot of big shortstops, but he’s certainly not too big at this point. And he’s always had the physical skills, the raw tools to be a good defensive shortstop. But I feel a lot better about that now than I did a year ago.

Tommy: And then with Smith, I know for awhile the knock on him was that he did everything right, he had a great swing, but he didn’t hit home runs. But this year the power started to pop up. So what goes into his ranking staying the same? Is that a reflection that he’s gotten a year older and not necessarily advanced enough, or…

Keith: I mean there’s no negative to it, certainly. He stayed the same, I think a few guys passed him, maybe some guys who had explosive seasons. But there’s nothing different about him, there was nothing wrong with his year. He got to a neutral ballpark [as opposed to the Mets' very pitcher-friendly Single A environments] and started to drive the ball more, and I think he’s capable of that.

I remember I saw him in high school, I said, “There’s 70 raw in there” [on the 20-80 grading scale scouts use to rate a player's tools], and I still believe he’s gonna get to that. But some of this is approach-related too, in that I do think he’s learning still when to go the other way— because he obviously loves to do that— and when to pull the ball, looking for certain pitches, certain locations, in certain counts. It’s the maturation of a hitter, and he came in very young, remember he was 17 when he was drafted.

So I have no concerns, I still think he’s going to be the player that I’ve forecasted him to be since he was drafted. And by having him where he is… I don’t rank 1st base prospects typically very high, I would say him staying in that same range is… he’s still on target. He did what I expected him to do getting out of those two A-ball parks, which I think not only wrecked his power, but if you look at what he did in Savannah, all he did was hit the ball to left field, like “Well I can’t hit them out, I may as well hit singles the other way to left.” Okay, that’s great, you don’t have to do that anymore.

dominic smith swings

Tommy: Following up on Smith, he’s probably a couple years away, but Lucas Duda‘s contract is expiring this year, and unless the Mets are going to move Michael Conforto or Lucas Duda or David Wright to first, they might have a vacancy at first if they don’t bring back Duda. So do you think if he has a good year they’re going to push up Smith’s timeline and try to have him be the 1st baseman in 2018?

Keith: I think he gets to the Big Leagues this year anyway, so I don’t think it’s changing anything. Obviously if he goes to Triple-A and goes bananas, that might speed things up a bit and we see him in the Big Leagues in June. Conversely if he goes to Triple-A and he sucks—- I really don’t think he’s going to, but it’s possible, and that might change things too. Let’s say he goes to Triple-A and makes the same kind of small improvements we saw him make last year.

Some of what happened last year was him just getting into a better hitting environment, and we got a better picture of the hitter he really is, so let’s say he goes to Triple-A and is a little better. A little more power, still high OBP, still good defense, let’s say he gets up to 20 home runs, or is on pace for 20 home runs, and they say “Alright, we’ll call him up in August,” and try to give him some regular playing-time to ease him in so he can be the 1st baseman next year. I don’t think anybody really wants anymore to… you know when a guy is going to be your everyday player, you don’t want to have Opening Day be his debut in most cases.  So I could certainly understand them saying, “Let’s make sure we give this guy a cup of coffee, he’s gonna be on the 40-man anyway,” that all makes sense to me.

Tommy: And then so with the pitchers, Thomas Szapucki [#60] and Justin Dunn [#84], those are guys where unlike Gsellman, we haven’t seen them in the Majors and they’re more recent to the fans’ attention— and Anthony Kay, but obviously he’s going to be moved back with the Tommy John surgery—- so with those three guys, obviously they’re not in the same tier of prospects as Mets fans might be used to, between Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, but what are you expecting them to offer the Mets? Because last year, the knock was that the Mets had all this elite pitching but didn’t have much depth prospect-wise for pitchers, and it seems like that’s improved…

Keith: Right, I think it’s improved dramatically. I thought the draft was good, I mean Kay getting hurt… UConn blew him out, I have no problem saying that, because I was saying it all Spring, and then sure enough he got hurt. But he’ll be back at some point, Szapucki took a huge step forward last year. I love Dunn, I probably love him even more now after some pro guys got to look at him— obviously he didn’t pitch a whole lot— but just to come back and say, “Hey, this guy’s an unbelievable athlete, how the heck did they get this guy at the 19th pick?” I mean it was… people were feeling like it was tremendous value where they got him.

robert gsellman

And Gsellman too, I gotta point out, I was always saying, “He’s a 5th starter, he’s throwing 90-91, he can sink it a little bit, he throws strikes… he’s a Big Leaguer, not very exciting.” But that guy shows up to the Big Leagues, and he’s bumping 95, 96. I even checked with the Mets, they were like “He didn’t throw that hard before.” I was like “Good, at least I didn’t whiff,” I hate that thought, that he comes up throwing 95 and I’m dismissing him. No, he really wasn’t! Just all of a sudden, he found a grade and a half of velocity, and now it’s 95, 96 and he can still sink it and get ground balls and throw a lot of strikes, and when your arm speeds up often your off-speed stuff gets a bit better too. He’s… it’s funny, I can’t think of a comparable in terms of career trajectory like that.

But it’s really fun, I think it’s really exciting, a guy who was totally an afterthought, for me and probably for a lot of people outside the Mets organization, who thought “Gsellman? Yeah, take him in a trade, he’s fine, just a guy,” you know, now he’s known. I don’t even know if they would trade him. I think they’ll use him, I think he’ll probably get his 30 starts in over the course of the season if he stays healthy, and obviously if he shows up throwing 95 in March.

Tommy: Yeah, the guy he reminds me most of in terms of trajectory, is actually the guy he looks like, deGrom—

Keith: Yes!

Tommy: —where you’re like, “OK, he’s an OK player,” and then he gets to the Big Leagues and he’s getting everybody out.

Keith: I remember seeing deGrom’s first Big League start, and I’m sitting there in Bristol in the green room watching the fastball move, and I’m like, “Sh*t!” I mean I had notes from Mets people and nobody told me he could do that, they told me he threw hard and that he had a real breaking ball, and that he was hyper-athletic, I mean everything they said was right, but this guy’s throwing two-seamers at 93 that are going to break bats, that’s a hell of a lot more exciting than I thought he was.

seth-lugo

Tommy: And now for Seth Lugo, he was kind of disappointing as a reliever, but when they put him in the starting rotation, he really took off and was important down the stretch. And I know, I’ve read a lot of articles about how his curveball—

Keith: Isn’t it great?

Tommy: —is pretty legendary, but yeah, he’s getting kind of overlooked in the discussion, between Wheeler and Gsellman, for who’s going to be the fifth starter. But there’s Lugo, he could be the fifth starter, he could go to the pen… what are your thoughts on him?

Keith: Well, I wanna talk specifically about that curveball issue. We think that’s good, right? The high spin rate sounds good, it looks good. I have said, and obviously this is part of— I have a book coming out, called Smart Baseball, and I talk about Statcast quite a bit towards the end, because it’s kind of the next big thing— we are still learning what much of this means. And is the fact that he has this extremely high spin rate curveball [the highest ever]… does that make it more effective?

And it looks fine now, obviously, and he’s not… he’s not data, he’s a pitcher, right? You have him already, you may as well roll him out there and see what it’s like. I am not willing to say, “This guy’s got an unbelievable spin rate on his curveball, therefore it’s going to be good.”

If I were the Mets, I would say… first they have to get him throwing it more, part of the problem is he just didn’t throw it that often. And then find a role that allows him maybe to maximize it if it turns out it is that effective. That might still be a bullpen role. That’s probably what he is, but with the caveat that he just hasn’t thrown that curveball that much. Even in the minors, that was just not an emphasis pitch for him. Now maybe he goes to Triple-AAA, starts for awhile, throws 20 breaking balls a game, and it changes the entire pitcher that he is, I mean that would be comparable to Gsellman throwing 95 all of a sudden, and then you sort of have to erase everything you had on him before.

matt harvey 2

Tommy: So obviously with Thor and deGrom, and then Matz who had that horrible start against the Marlins but was then pitching like an All-Star for a couple months, with each passing year you kind of know you’re going to get great pitching from them. But with Harvey he was concerning last year before the injury [Thoracic Outlet Syndrome] because he was pitching poorly. I know for me it was less concerning after the injury, because it would have been more of an issue if he was pitching horribly with no explanation. But I know TOS is not like Tommy John where it seems like, you go get it, you take a year off, you get back. Here there’s not much of a track record, so I guess… what do you think the Harvey situation is shaping up to be like?

Keith: I don’t know. I really don’t know, because I don’t think we have a ton of comparisons, and obviously we haven’t seen him come back and see what he looks like, does all the old stuff return, is he still able to pitch pain-free, at the same velocity that he was beforehand, I don’t know. I mean, if I were a Mets fan, not that I need to sow concern among Mets fans, you seem to be good at doing that all by yourselves, but you know, I would look at that rotation and say, that’s not the most durable group right now.

And Thor has been durable, but obviously he had the little elbow— what did he call it— inflammation. And Matz is just fragile, he’s great when he’s healthy, but he’s [dealt with ailments] quite a bit over the years, so look, this guy is good when he’s healthy, but his track record of durability is basically non-existent. So if you can set yourselves up to bank on him for 18 starts, and then you’re covered for the rest, and obviously if he gives you more that’s great… that’s fine. But don’t go into the season thinking you’re getting 30 starts out of Steven Matz, because he’s never done it before.

The flip-side is, now with the emergence of Gsellman, the return of Wheeler, maybe you’ve got 7 starters you can mix and match to keep guys healthy, or just to plan ahead, because someone’s gonna break down, someone’s gonna get hurt, now we at least have the inventory here to soak up those innings and not just be handing them to Triple-A cannon-fodder guys.

michael fulmer

Tommy: Right, I always tell people when they ask “what are you going to do with the 7 starters,” I say that that’s probably gonna resolve itself unfortunately, you’re not gonna have all 7 healthy all at the same time…

Keith: Right. This was the… when they traded Michael Fulmer, I said “Look, Fulmer’s a really good prospect, you’re getting 2 months of Yoenis Cespedes,” not knowing Cespedes was going to go all Babe Ruth the next couple weeks, right?  But Mets fans kept saying, “We have enough pitching, there’s never gonna be room for him in the rotation.” Well, really? You know, come back at me bro! I’m not hearing from you lately.

You would have plenty of room for Michael Fulmer in your rotation. You can’t have enough of those guys. Doesn’t mean you don’t trade them, you absolutely do, there will come a point where you learn something about them where you say “Alright, well why don’t we give this guy up,” or you certainly say, “We are going to use this pitching depth to upgrade the roster somewhere else,” but accept that there will always come an opportunity where that guy would have pitched for you. There will come a day where the Red Sox will look back and say, “Look, we should have kept Michael Kopech” [instead of trading him for All-Star Chris Sale]. If he stays healthy, they’re gonna look at him the way you guys look at Fulmer right now.

 michael conforto

Tommy: And similarly in terms of a logjam in the outfield, obviously if Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares all stay healthy and you have to bench one of them, that’s a good problem to have… I mean the way I look at it, Cespedes is obviously going to play every day, and Bruce and Granderson, they’re not going to sit on the bench, I mean their weaknesses against lefties, Conforto shares, so the way I look at it, I expect it to be Cespedes, Granderson and Bruce, every day, Lagares as a fourth outfielder. And I almost think, if Conforto isn’t going to be playing every day, it might be better to have Nimmo, who kind of is a fourth outfielder, to be that bench outfielder and hopefully have Conforto raking in Triple-AAA and… but yeah, what do you think they will do, and what do you think they should do?

Keith: I think they will do the wrong thing. Collins will do the wrong thing. And I think the front office is doing the wrong thing. Why Terry Collins is being given final say over playing Conforto I have no idea. I think you play Cespedes and Conforto in the outfield every day, and you plan around those two guys. Everything else has to flow from them.

Cespedes obviously, that’s not an issue. But Conforto has to play every day! For me that’s step one. I mean, you know he rakes against right-handers— at least when he’s healthy he does—  and it’s not that he doesn’t hit lefties, he hit lefties in college, he hit lefties OK in the Minors, they just never gave him a chance in the Big Leagues. And he’s never going to learn if you don’t play him. So, you make sure those two guys are getting your everyday at-bats, and you move forward from there.

I agree with what you said on Nimmo, he’d be fine on the bench as a fourth outfielder, he can fill in a bit in center, he can certainly play right, you just don’t want him to face a good lefty. You don’t want him to face many lefties at all, really. That’s the one thing you’d be concerned about, with him as your fourth, but it’s not like they have many options anyway who would be able to fit that, play multiple positions… and you know Lagares can play all three, he’s not going to hit as much. I think with Nimmo, there’s more bat, he’s probably better suited to that job.

Tommy: Well with Conforto, you were always high on him and he was incredible at the start of the year until May… but he only hit .242 against righties last year, and only hit .104 against lefties, so I guess… obviously if he had kept that early production up, no one’s having this discussion about when does he play, where does he play, but because he struggled it does seem like more of a question-mark to play him every day so… what do you think went into that slump, and are you not concerned by it?

Keith: Well he was also hurt at some point after that too, so I’m not sure, I’ll put it this way, I have a feeling, if he’s just getting— oh, the other thing I heard from people in the organization too, they felt the fact that Conforto was not being given opportunities to face lefties really negatively affected his swing, particularly his stance, they felt he wasn’t keeping his front hip closed as well as he should be, I think this is sort of a turn-the-page opportunity, to get him back out there, let him play every day starting in Spring Training, you know… he’s getting 2 at-bats per game at the beginning but he’s facing righties, he’s facing lefties, he’s swinging consistent, he’s fully healthy, and this is all forgotten. But this is one of the better hitting prospects they’ve produced in a while, and if they screw this up, it is to their tremendous detriment as an organization.

travis darnaud

Tommy: One other guy whose stock probably fell last year is Travis d’Arnaud. He’s not getting younger, so every year it probably gets a bit more frustrating for Mets fans, but he still does have talent and his good moments… I don’t think you’d still call him a prospect, but how do you evaluate him as a young player at this point?

Keith: Right. Yeah, I mean, look… my issue with him… one year I think I had him ranked in the top 10 overall, I said this is an offensive catcher, he’s good enough in that he can catch and throw, he’s gonna have power and he’s gonna hit, might not have a great on-base percentage, but a catcher with that kind of offensive production is an All-Star. But he hasn’t been healthy since. And now if you look back, kind of all the way back to when he was first drafted by the Phillies, it’s just been one injury after another. He’s had back issues, finger broken, a knee issue, a concussion, I think more than one concussion, I just don’t know if I could ever count on him to stay healthy as a catcher, and I just don’t know if there’s enough offensive production there anywhere else he’s likely to play, which is probably a corner outfield spot, which is the last thing they need at this point.

Tommy:  One thing I think we were all stunned by, because we knew he was at least OK with catching and throwing, was last year his throwing took a huge step back. Did that come out of nowhere for you as well?

Keith: Yeah, it was awful, yeah. I was shocked. I certainly didn’t see that coming. If you told me he’s gonna have trouble throwing or trouble receiving, I’d have said “eh, receiving, it’s probably not a strength.” I thought there was no reason he couldn’t get better at it. But I was absolutely shocked at how bad he was at throwing last year. And it made me wonder, “Oh, is he hurt again? Something’s bothering him, and that’s what’s affecting his throwing, the accuracy…” I don’t know, the guy’s just always hurt.

 gavin-cecchini

Tommy: So one place where they are seemingly set— the infield is obviously pretty strong. I know Asdrubal Cabrera, who you weren’t as high on, raised his stock. Reyes raised his stock, Walker had a big year although the back injury is a concern, and you’re not counting on Wright health-wise but he’s still there, and Duda hits when he’s healthy, so they probably have more infielders than they can start at one time. And again, that always resolves itself because of the injuries. But how do you evaluate their Major League infield?

Keith: I think Cabrera, still, I think it was a terrible signing, he’s an awful defensive shortstop, it still shocks me that they’re willing to tolerate him out there. I understand good positioning can cover some of that, you’re just giving up outs by playing him out there. And I understand Rosario’s coming, I’m sure they’re hoping that he’s going to take that job sooner than later, it just doesn’t excuse that contract. The thing I’m interested to see is, Gavin Cecchini‘s had throwing problems that got worse last year not better, and I think that’s moved him off shortstop, probably permanently, and so, can he be OK at 2nd base? He’s still erratic, it’s a mental thing, like a yips-type situation, not an arm strength situation, because he used to be fine.

I think all along the plan was going to be for him to take over at short or at second, maybe this year. Obviously Walker coming back, accepting the qualifying offer, changes that, but it’s probably not the worst thing for Cecchini to let him go back to Triple-AAA for awhile and just try to get some consistency. It’s a shorter throw, it’s an easier throw, maybe that takes care of the problem. I hope so, because I think he can really hit, he’s a great kid, but that’s the one thing to watch for with the infield situation this year, is that maybe he ends up taking over for Walker at some point, especially if Walker doesn’t perform, if he comes back and he’s not healthy. He was great last year, good last year, but maybe he comes back and the back issue’s still there, and gives them cause to consider making a change.

asdrubal cabrera hr

Tommy: I’m surprised you say Cabrera… I remember that was your problem when we spoke last year, his defense, but from the eye-test first of all, he seemed definitely solid out there this year. And with the stats, on FanGraphs they had him positive defensively and Baseball Reference had him like exactly as a net zero… do you really still think he’s awful defensively? I mean…

Keith: Oh yeah, oh yeah, absolutely. He’s awful defensively. He’s barely mobile there. And I mean, look, you talk to Mitchel Lichtman [creator of the UZR stat], you talk to the BIS guys [Baseball Info Solutions], they tell you not to look too much into a single year of those stats. And the Mets do position well. They’ve been a very analytics-forward franchise for awhile now, and they’ve probably just had him in better spots. It’s not like the guy… the guy was never a good defensive shortstop, he has not been a good defensive shortstop since he was in the Seattle system, and what was that, nine years ago now?  And it’s not like he got better at some point, and certainly at his age there would be no rational reason to expect him to become a capable defensive shortstop, when he’s been below-average for so many years.

Tommy: I guess it just seems like he’s a good defender because he makes all the plays when he gets to it, he has good hands and everything, a good arm.  Anyway, where do you see the Mets in terms of further moves this summer, in terms of aggression and ability to add to the roster. They weren’t aggressive with guys outside the roster, and didn’t do much at the deadline aside from the Bruce trade. Obviously the deadline was also their low point record-wise, when it made the least sense to go for a deep playoff run, but yeah, where do you see them this year in terms of being buyers?

Keith: Well it seems like they don’t have a ton of financial flexibility remaining at this point [after their other moves]. If you’re asking from the competitive standpoint, it seems like the Nationals are a bit better on paper, I think they really certainly are better on paper, but I don’t think the difference between the two is big enough that the I would say the Mets are in a bad situation. They’re a little bit behind, but it’s a situation where they could close the gap by playing the right guys. If Conforto’s gonna get 600 plate appearances and not 300, that makes a huge difference in what I would project for their runs scored output this year. I think there’s… yeah, there’s a talent gap, but it’s not insurmountable, especially if the Mets just do the best they can with deploying the assets who are already inside the organization.

wright homer

Tommy: So what’s your Mets prediction in terms of the division, where they are… your overall outlook for them this year?

Keith: I probably have them in second place. I’ll take a deeper look in March, I just came out of the prospect stuff, so I haven’t done any kind of deep dive on anything like projected standings for this year. But they’re clearly better than three of the clubs in their division. Do I think they’re better than the Nationals right now? Probably not. You know, I think they’ve got some issues of their own making, and obviously the Nationals have decided they’re all in at this point.

The Nationals certainly only have one big roster deficiency I can see and that’s a closer, which is probably the least important thing, and something they might be able to fix on the fly, whereas the Mets maybe have a few more issues, but I could also paint a scenario for you where the Mets get a little healthy, a little luck, play the right guys, and end up neck-and-neck with the Nationals. I don’t think there’s that big a gap between the teams.

Tommy: I meant to ask about the Nationals’ trade for Adam Eaton… Knowing what I do about the prospects, from your rankings and such, it seemed like a huge overpay. Did it seem like an overpay to you and the prospect experts out there? Were you surprised?

Keith: It was, I think that they sold low on Giolito in particular. I think they just decided for whatever reason they just weren’t going to get the same production out of him… I mean, a year ago this guy was the best pitching prospect in baseball, he’s still close to it. I think he’s gonna be great in Chicago, I think they’ll end up regretting that deal as a whole and he’ll be a major reason for it.

That said I think they’ll get value in Eaton, his contract’s obviously unbelievable, so they were trading for that, in addition to trading for the player. He makes them a better team right now, I think they’re better now with Eaton as an everyday outfielder than they were with Giolito in their rotation, because Giolito’s still developing, and Eaton is ready. We know what Eaton is, even if he’s only a 3 or 4-win player the next few years, he makes the Nationals better and you can more than justify the deal.

Tommy: I think that’s all I have for the Mets. One question for you, when does your book come out?

Keith: April 25th.

Tommy: And what is it about? I know the title is Smart Baseball, but more specifically?

Keith: It’s a book for the readers who have asked me over the years, what’s a book I can read myself, or pick up and give to my friend, my dad, to learn about the basics of sabermetrics. If you’re saying… “Keith, you say pitcher wins are useless, RBIs are useless, on-base percentage is good, and I agree, but I don’t understand all of this stuff,” … this is the book for that.

I talk about why the old stats don’t work, what some of the newer but still pretty basic stats are you can use as a fan, especially with how players are valued, and also talk about things like Statcast as I mentioned earlier, because I think that’s really gonna change the conversation over the next 5 to 10 years, but also potentially increase the gap between what we know, as fans and the media, and what the teams know internally about player values.

Tommy: So it’s bridging the gap between “Baseball for dummies” and “Baseball for complete nerds.”

Keith: Yeah, I was aiming for something very specific. This is not a math book, I didn’t want that, I didn’t think people wanted that. I thought people would want something that was… you know, I’m explaining things in very rational terms, but hopefully lively enough to still be readable, and still convince you, if you’re one of those people who says, “Trevor Hoffman had 600 saves, so he’s a Hall of Famer,” you should walk away and say, “Eh, that’s not a good argument.” You might still want him to be a Hall of Famer, that’s fine, but you’re gonna have to come up with a better argument.

Tommy: Alright, that’s all I have for today. Thanks again for doing this!

KeithOf course, no problem. Take care!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Again, I want to give a huge shoutout to Keith, and to you as well if you have taken the time to read through this bulky interview. Hopefully this has you even more geared up for the Mets to get back on the diamond. Stay tuned for some follow-up content such as “Main takeaways” and “Things we’ve learned.” Keith certainly didn’t hold back, and I didn’t necessarily agree with him on everything— I’m sure you’ll all have your own opinions as well, so leave your thoughts below!

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MMO Exclusive: Craig Breslow Says Mets Have Reached Out And They Appeal To Him http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mmo-exclusive-craig-breslow-says-mets-have-reached-out-and-they-appeal-to-him.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mmo-exclusive-craig-breslow-says-mets-have-reached-out-and-they-appeal-to-him.html/#comments Thu, 02 Feb 2017 21:00:53 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=230465 craig breslow

Free agent left-handed reliever Craig Breslow held a showcase last month to give teams a look at his new arm angle which has been getting a lot of buzz. The New York Mets had two officials at the showcase as they continue to look for a lefty to add to their bullpen.

From 2014 to 2016, Breslow went 2-10 with a 4.93 ERA (5.16 FIP), striking out 90 batters in 133.1 innings. It was after he pitched only 14 innings for the Marlins last year he knew a change had to be made.

With the help of a “Raspodo Device,” the lefty has worked at improving his craft since last season. The device, which he downloaded on his iPad, tracks velocity, total spin, spin efficiency, and tilt axis. The most important change in his mechanics has been the dropping of his arm angle, producing movement on his pitches described as “sick” by one scout.

Since 2005, Breslow has gone 22-29 with a 3.35 ERA (4.06 FIP). In 535.1 innings he has struck out 419 batters and walked 212. However, if he has reinvented himself, his past statistics might not speak much to his future success. He could end up being a very valuable reliever for a team willing to take a chance on him, possibly filling the role of a lefty specialist.

(MMO) Logan: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. First of all, after being an good left-handed reliever for most of your career, 2014, ’15, and ’16 did not go as planned. Most chalked it up to age, but after last season, instead of retiring, you went back to the drawing board. Was that a hard decision to make, to retire or not?

Breslow: No, it was actually simple and straightforward. I still had the desire and passion to play as well as the drive to get better. I felt like I still had something left in the tank, I just recognized that what I had been doing, what I was used to doing to be successful wasn’t working anymore.

So rather than spend a ton of time pinpointing opportunities to tinker or hone very specific elements of my delivery, I kind of wiped the slate clean and relied on some feedback from members of some front offices, teammates, opposing hitters, about what I could do to be more successful – to add more deception to my delivery, to add more movement.

I ultimately came up with the idea of altering my delivery to throw with a much lower arm slot and then kind of using a scientific or analytical approach to measuring the differences or improvements.

Logan: You’ve historically been a fastball/slider/changeup pitcher. How have your mechanical tweaks affected each of those pitches? Have you tried throwing any new ones?

Breslow: I would say lowering my arm slot has allowed me to throw what I would consider to be a true sinker. I’ve utilized this device called a Rapsodo machine which captures spin rate, vertical and horizontal movement, gives me 3D flight paths of the ball out of my hand so i can see quantifiably just how much the ball is moving and I’ve been able to add a significant amount of sink and tail to my 2-seam fastball and so i think that’s probably going to be the predominant pitch that I use.

Logan: Is movement the only aspect of your game you’ve been working on, or have you also focused on other aspects such as velocity, command, etc?

Breslow: Sure, velocity is something that will or has come along with overall improving my conditioning, my strength. I’ve done some weighted ball work, I’ve done extensive shoulder cuff work, and then I also think lowering my arm slot has created a more efficient delivery. i think using my body better, using my forces better, I’ve seen an increase in velocity.

Logan: You’ve always had about the same success against lefties (.250 batting average against) and righties (.244 BAA). With the current state of relief pitching putting such a high value on lefty specialists, have you made any adjustments specifically with that in mind?

Breslow: I kind of undertook this with the idea that I needed to be more effective against left-handed hitters. As a left-handed reliever, my bread and butter needed to be dominating left-handed hitters and so lowering the arm slot gives me a different look, gives me more deception and movement. Particularly facing lefties it allows me to throw more of a sweeping breaking ball, more of a true left-on-left kind of swing-and-miss breaking ball from that lower slot so I think that will be a much more effective pitch for me when facing lefties.

Logan: As a free agent there are many factors in choosing your new team; How good they are, how strong the leadership is, the location, etc. Which factors are you most considering during this process?

Breslow: I think all of those are legitimate factors. I think certainly having been on some very good teams, some World Series Champion teams and some teams that have struggled to win, winning is much more enjoyable at this point in my career so I definitely place a priority on that.

At the same time I recognize I’ve got some unique experiences and some veteran leadership qualities under my belt, I would certainly be looking for an organization that would allow me to kind of be my own person, be able to share with some younger guys some of my experiences, some of the things that I’ve learned the same way that guys have done for me.

Obviously location, finance, all of things are factors but i think with different organizations, different variables become priority.

Logan: My readers would probably waterboard me if I didn’t ask you this, have the Mets reached out to you?

Breslow: We’ve had conversations with the Mets, yeah. And obviously I recognize where they are in terms of competing it seems as though they have this sort of sweet spot to compete for a World Series Championship and that has obvious appeal.

Logan: Good to hear! Well one last question that’s not quite baseball related but is still very important. You founded the Strike 3 Foundation. Can you tell me about what it does and why you started it?

Breslow: Sure, so briefly we raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer research and treatment. My sister is a cancer survivor, she was 13 I was 11 at the time of her diagnosis and the impact that that had on my life was pretty significant.

I always thought I’d be a physician that I would kind of leave my mark on the medical community as a doctor but as I was able to establish my baseball career, I didn’t want to completely abandon this other thing that I had always felt passionately about and so the work that we do at Strike 3 allows me to stay connected to the medical world and medical community.

I feel like we’ve been able to fund some very meaningful research, I’ve gotten tremendous support from the baseball community. I think we’ve reached the point where we’re a sustainable organization, no longer strictly an event-drive fundraising-type organization, but one that can kind of sustain the long view and it’s something that I’m very proud of.

Logan: That’s wonderful. Well thank you so much for your time, I appreciate it. Keep up the good work!

Breslow: My pleasure.

If you would like to learn more about the Strike 3 Foundation and/or make a donation, click HERE

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MMO Exclusive: Meet Eastern League Batting Champ Phillip Evans http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/01/mmo-exclusive-meet-eastern-league-batting-champ-phillip-evans.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/01/mmo-exclusive-meet-eastern-league-batting-champ-phillip-evans.html/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 16:00:33 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=229443 philip-evans

Phillip Evans won the batting title on the final day of the Eastern League season in 2016 with a 4 for 6 game that capped an incredible breakout year.

The 24-year old had a career season in 2016 hitting .335/.374/.485 in 96 games for the Double-A Binghamton Mets. He also set career highs in doubles (30), home runs (8), runs scored (53), RBI (41) and OPS (.826).

The right-handed hitting infielder played shortstop (39 games), second base (34) and third base (27) during the past season. The Mets drafted him as a shortstop in the 15th round of the 2011 out of high school.

Evans went to the Puerto Rican Winter League to continue working on his game and did the same thing he did during the regular season with the bat. In 19 winter ball games, Evans hit .311/.386/.446 and walked seven times compared to eight strikeouts.

MMN – Thanks for taking timing to answer my questions and congrats on a great season including the batting title. Let’s start with winter ball since you’re playing right now. How did it come about to play for the Criollos de Caguas? And what was your motivation for doing so?

Phillip – Thank you I appreciate that, it was a very fun season. I actually got the job talking to Joey Cora near the end of our season while he was managing for the Altoona Curve. I asked him if he had any connections with winter ball and he gave his brother Alex Cora a call and asked if they had a spot for me. He called me the next morning and asked if I wanted to play. I was excited to get my foot in the door in winter ball and get some more at bats and stay in baseball shape so I will be ready to go once spring training comes around.

MMN – What was it like playing in Puerto Rico? What level would you say the competition is?

Phillip – It’s a great league, a lot of high level minor league and a few major league guys come down here too stay in shape. I don’t think I can compare it to any exact level but the competition is very tough, great pitchers, great hitters and the intensity of every game is off the charts. It has Playoff atmosphere every game.

MMN – What did you learned from the experience and the coaching staff?

Phillip – Being able to play in a must win atmosphere, and adjusting to the different ways of thinking and approach of the game. Pitching, defense, pace of play, situations etc.

MMN – You had struggled in your minor league career before 2016, what changed for you that made this year so successful?

Phillip – Every player is always developing in this game in some way, mentally or physically. Eventually something just clicks, I don’t think anyone can explain what that “something” is or put a time,date,or place of when that will be, but it clicked for me this year. It just happened to be later in my career.

MMN – What did it feel like to have that breakout year personally?

Phillip – It was an incredible feeling! Playing hard every single game is what I do, Defensively and offensively. It was very rewarding seeing the production that came out of all the ups and downs through the years.

MMN – When did you know you had a chance at the batting title?

Phillip – I’m not exactly sure when I found out I had a chance at it. I just wanted to continue to build off the strong season that I was having, help the team win some more ball games and have some fun.

MMN – You played all over the infield this year, is there a position your more comfortable at and how many gloves do you bring with you?

Phillip – I have been a short stop my entire life, so that’s the most natural. All the other positions have been an easier transition because of that. I bring 3 gloves with me wherever I go.

MMN – Can you talk a little bit about how it is as an infielder to have a defensive whiz at first like Dominic Smith?

Phillip – It’s absolutely amazing! I’m pretty sure the entire infield owes him a few steak dinners. He works hard, but makes it look easy over there. A future multi gold glove award winner and a great all around guy. I’m sure anyone who has played with him or against him will say the same. Love having him on my team.

MMN – What is your approach like at the plate? I’ve noticed that you’ve been walking more in winter ball, is that something you’re working on?

Phillip – My approach is the same as it has always been, aggressive on pitches that I want to hit and do damage with. I have been a little bit more selective during my time in winter ball.

MMN – Last question, what do you think you need to work on this offseason to take the next step in your development towards the ultimate goal of being a major leaguer?

Phillip – I’m going to get stronger, faster, and as lean as possible. Working on my first step and quickness, so I will be able to play at the highest level at any position.

MMN – Thanks again for answering all my questions. Good luck next season.

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MMO Exclusive: Nelson Figueroa Weighs In On Bruce Situation, Starting Rotation, 2017 Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/01/mmo-exclusive-nelson-figueroa-weighs-in-on-bruce-situation-starting-rotation-2017-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/01/mmo-exclusive-nelson-figueroa-weighs-in-on-bruce-situation-starting-rotation-2017-mets.html/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 18:30:50 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=229133 figueroa_zhr7o6zt_bpzo9j0z

Former Mets pitcher and current SNY studio analyst Nelson Figueroa, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me on Monday. Brooklyn born and raised like myself, Figgy has an intimate and very passionate view of the game. Mets fans have come to love his crisp analysis after each Mets game and his strong opinions and sharp criticisms. You can follow him on Twitter at @FigSNY.

Today, we post Figgy’s thoughts on some of the questions about the upcoming Mets season. Please enjoy.

Joe D: How will this Jay Bruce situation play out in your opinion? Was it a bad idea to pick up that $13 million dollar option? Could you see any scenario in which he’s still with the Mets on Opening Day?

Figgy: The Jay Bruce situation will probably go down to the wire in spring training. I think ultimately they’re going to look to get the pieces that they need. As things usually shake out in spring training, someone somewhere is bound to get hurt and then you have yourself a very hot trade commodity.

You have to remember that Bruce is a 30 Home Run, 100 RBI candidate so the $13 million dollar option was a good fallback if Yoenis Cespedes didn’t end up returning to the Mets. I can see Bruce still being there on Opening Day because they are in a true salary dump situation with him at the moment.

Joe D: How would you categorize the state of the Mets catching right now? Can Travis d’Arnaud still cash in on all the potential the Mets saw when they acquired him? Did you see any positive signs from Kevin Plawecki?

Figgy: I think where the Mets suffered with their catching last year was they didn’t have a true catching coach like Bob Geren during the previous year. Now that Glenn Sherlock is the new catching coach I think you’ll see the attention to details return. Travis is someone I expect to have a bounce-back year this season. I think the talent and timing will finally meet. Rene Rivera was a very nice find last year and then locking up his contract so soon shows their confidence level in him. It seems Plawecki’s stock has fallen quite a bit since the previous year.

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Joe D: Which two players need to step up the most in 2017 for the Mets?

Figgy: Without a doubt Lucas Duda and Matt Harvey are the two guys that need to step up. Both of their careers are at a crossroads and getting productive full seasons from both will help the Mets go a long way in 2017.

Joe D: Were you impressed by what you saw from Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo last season? Is one of them better suited to work out of the bullpen than the other?

Figgy: I was very impressed from what I saw from both Lugo and Gsellman. Their ability to compete at this level and also display the confidence in their stuff in tough situations really stood out.

For me, I think Lugo is better suited as a starter and Gsellman, being a two pitch pitcher using his much improved slider as a strikeout pitch, is a stronger candidate for the bullpen. Especially with Jeurys Familia likely out for a while.

Joe D: The Mets are relying on four pitchers coming off surgery to join Noah Syndergaard in the starting rotation this season. I don’t know about you but I’m not too confident that all four of them will make it through spring training without a setback. And Bartolo Colon and his 15 wins and 200 innings are now in Atlanta. How do you view the situation?

Figgy: This once promising can’t-miss rotation is now filled with a lot of question marks. Even Syndergaard with his bone spur is coming off a career high in innings pitched and POWER slider usage.

Will Harvey be ready for Opening Day and the mental aspect of not pitching like the “Dark Knight” in 2015?

Was Jacob deGgrom’s surgery just a tune up? Can Steven Matz go a full season without breaking down?

Who is Zack Wheeler? It’s been two years since he stepped on a big league mound in a Met uniform.

Modern medicine is being tested with this young Mets rotation, but the talent is still undeniable. Met fans know all too well the toll injuries can play on the brightest of starting rotations, remember Pulse, Izzy and Wilson?

Joe D: Tell me a little about Chai Lifeline and what motivated you to get behind them?

Figgy: Chai Lifeline was introduced to me by my friend Peri Finkelstein. She is an amazing young lady I met in 2009 at Citi Field. We reconnected last year where I learned of her involvement and the amazing accomplishment of walking 1,400 steps in the Miami Marathon. Peri has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair to get around. She has helped to raise over 120k for Team Peri which goes to send kids to Camp Simcha. This year she is training to walk a full mile and I will be walking a half marathon in support of Team Peri.

Joe D: How can Mets fans help support your charity?

Figgy: Before we leave NY I am having a benefit bowling event to help raise money and to have a fun evening of laughs and love to send Peri off to Florida. I am inviting family, friends and fans to join me. Check out my twitter page or Facebook @figsny for the links to click on and read more and for a small donation you van come bowl with us.

Also there is a huge 110 item auction on Charitybuzz.com/Chai_lifeline where we are offering unique experience packages and chances to meet and dine with celebrities from all walks of life who have donated their time to help us raise money.

Joe D: Thank you so much for taking some time to answer a few questions that are on the minds of Mets fans and we all look forward to watching your excellent analysis on SNY or WPIX after each Mets game in 2017.

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MMO Interview: Hard Throwing Relief Prospect Kevin McGowan http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/12/mmo-interview-hard-throwing-relief-prospect-kevin-mcgowan.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/12/mmo-interview-hard-throwing-relief-prospect-kevin-mcgowan.html/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 16:31:29 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=228373 3

New York Mets right-handed pitching prospect Kevin McGowan had a breakout season after switching to a reliever. McGowan, 25, pitched to a 2.35 ERA and 1.091 WHIP in 84.1 innings over three levels. As a reliever he held opponents to a .222/.269/.349 slash line in 2016.

McGowan made 42 appearances including four spot starts after working almost exclusively as start starter the previous three seasons. He had a 0.82 ERA in 33 innings for the St. Lucie Mets before being promoted to the Binghamton Mets. He then pitched to a 3.62 ERA over 49.2 innings for the B-Mets and also made a 1.2 inning cameo with the Las Vegas 51s.

The Mets drafted McGowan in the 13th round of the 2013 draft out of Division II Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire. He went to high school about an hour away in Nashua, New Hampshire and playing baseball in the northeast is one of the topics we touch on.

McGowan saw an uptick in his fastball out of the pen sitting in the mid 90’s and topping out in the upper 90’s. He also saw improvement with the consistency of his breaking ball that helped him have a great season. He set a career high with a 8.9 K/9 and tied a career best with his 2.3 BB/9. He allowed only 70 hits and four home runs in his 84.1 innings of work in 2016.

I would expect to see Kevin get an invite to major league spring training camp this year.

MMO – First off, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions and congrats on a great season. You had success this year in part because of a switch from starting to relieving, how did that come about?

Kevin – Probably from just trusting my stuff and throwing my fastball a lot more. Over the past season or so when I was starting I threw way more off speed then I needed to. Basically trying to be too cute. But it worked out cause for the first time in pro ball I actually had a decent breaking ball. So it paid off this season

MMO – What do you think changed to make your breaking ball more effective?

Kevin – I just never really had one. Or at least a consistent one. It took time, but I finally developed feel for the pitch so I can locate it and add and subtract velocity when I need to.

MMO – Did any specific coach in the Mets system help you make that pitch more consistent?

Kevin – My guy Phil Regan (Assistant Pitching Coordinator)! That dude always takes care of me and has always taken the time to help me out. But Marc Valdes (St.Lucie Pitching Coach) and I always worked well together and he seems to kinda know what I need to make it a better pitch for me. And I was with Glenn Abbott (B-Mets Pitching Coach) for a while this year and him and I talked a lot about how to approach pitching. A main point he would always bring up is breaking ball and my breaking ball specifically. He always wanted to make sure I kept depth with the it so it wasn’t flat. So a huge thanks to those guys.

MMO – What are you doing this offseason to get ready for the 2017 season?

Kevin – Just working out at AB athletics here in Nashua, New Hampshire. And playing golf pretty much until the snow hits. Then it’s video game season haha.

MMO – When I talked to David Roseboom he told me you were the best hitter in the B-Mets bullpen, said you had moonshot power. Any truth to this? And is it Bartolo Colon power?

Kevin – Well besides Tyler Pill. He shouldn’t count though cause he was Fullertons’ 3 hitter in college. And Idk man. Bartolo is a legend. But I if you ask my father he’ll tell you I was always a better hitter than pitcher. So batting practice is just wicked fun for me. Five o’clock hitter though for sure.

MMO – What do you think you need to improve to take the next step in your development and get closer to the big leagues?

Kevin – Just build off of last season and continue to get more consistent. Then hopefully get a chance to help out the big league club.

MMO – Growing up in Maine I know what it’s like, but can you explain to the readers about how hard it is to get baseball games/practices in up in the Northeast and some of the challenges you faced in high school because of the weather.

Kevin – Yeah it’s pretty nuts. I haven’t played nearly as much baseball as my competition just cause the weather is brutal up here. High school you had to really dress warm cause it was cold usually most of the time and couldn’t really avoid the cold. Our home field was a Triple-A stadium at one point so we at least had actual dugouts and could avoid the wind. Obviously not all high school fields are nice, so we were pretty fortunate for that.

College was even worse. Started in February and we played probably every game cause we had on a turf field. I honestly can’t remember a game getting snowed out, we played plenty of games when it was snowing. And my college has to have the worst location to play because there’s a lake right behind the field and we’re at the bottom of mountains, so it was never warm. Lots of wind.

My freshman year when we hosted regionals there was still snow behind the fences in May. I remember walking to practice in January and it was no joke -20 plus the wind. So practices when it was too cold would be in our indoor facility which was a bubble. Unfortunately it wasn’t heated well. Practice sometimes was shoveling the snow off the field. With all that being said, we had heated dugouts. Thank god. I don’t mean that to come off like I hated it cause honestly Franklin Pierce was for sure the best college experience I could ever imagine.

MMO – Who of your teammates this year, at any of your 3 stops, impressed you the most?

Kevin – I’ve always been a big Rosario guy, I think he’s the truth. So I feel like I’m never surprised with what he’s capable of. Same with Dominic Smith. Also the truth. Paul Pierce 34! It’s been fun watching those guys starting to reach their potential. And there’s still more room for them to grow which is kinda insane. Pimp C (Corey Taylor) was a lot of fun to watch too. Throws hard and doesn’t mess around. He’s always in attack mode. Ricky Knapp finally showed what I always thought he was capable of and had a sick year. Matt Oberste was hitting rockets all of the yard again.

It was good to see Boomer (David Roseboom) have the year he had. I mean when I saw him in St. Lucie he was struggling. It was great to see him turn it completely around. I think it kind shocked people. Going from that tough half in the FSL to dominating the Eastern League. He’s a high energy, weird dude so watching him get fired up as a closer was hilarious. Sewald is always nasty so when I saw him throw it was nothing surprising. He pitches with a huge chip on his shoulder and it’s great to see him continue to succeed. And of course Jeff Glenn, unreal bullpen catcher. Oh yeah Phillip Evans! Another guy I watched struggle for a bit in St. Lucie and then have an unbelievable season. Won a league batting title. That was sick to see. Pumped for him.

MMO – You must have grown up a Red Sox fan, have you changed your allegiances to the Mets?

Kevin – Oh yeah I was a Sox die hard. Papi retiring hurts though. I have pictures of him all over my room. Same with Pedro and Manny Ramirez. Those three were my idols growing up. But guys who I played with are now a part of the big league club and they seemed to have a seamless transition to the show which is awesome. So I’m always rooting for Robert GsellmanSeth LugoJosh SmokerMichael Conforto and all the guys I’ve played with. It fires me up watching them succeed. Obviously it makes me want to be a part of it. So my allegiances have changed for sure.

MMO – Thanks again man for answers and good luck next season.

Kevin – Yeah for sure.

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MMO Exclusive: Mets Relief Prospect Paul Sewald http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/11/mmo-exclusive-mets-relief-prospect-paul-sewald.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/11/mmo-exclusive-mets-relief-prospect-paul-sewald.html/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2016 19:31:01 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=225875 paul sewald

Paul Sewald was drafted by the Mets in the 2012 draft in the 10th round out of the University of San Diego. The right-handed reliever made his pro debut in spectacular fashion with the Brooklyn Cyclones. He had a 1.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and went 4 for 4 in save chances.

Paul would follow up his great debut with another good season in 2013 with the Savannah Sand Gnats in which he posted a 1.77 ERA, struck out 67 batters in 56 innings and didn’t allow a home run.

It was more of the same for the crafty closer in 2014 when he had a combined 1.92 ERA, struck out 69 in 56.1 innings and held opponents to a .200 average combined between St. Lucie and the Binghamton Mets.

The step up to Double-A can be the toughest but that didn’t phase Sewald as he posted arguably the best year of his career in 2015 with Binghamton. He pitched the entire season with the B-Mets and went 24 for 25 in save chances. He posted a career best in ERA (1.73), WHIP (0.86), and opponents AVG (.188). He was named to the Eastern League All-Star roster but didn’t play because he participated in the Pan-Am games for Team USA.

Surely the successful righty, that mostly sits 88-92 MPH with his fastball, would have trouble in the hitters haven that is Cashman Field and the Pacific Coast League. Nope, just another tremendous season for Sewald who was the Las Vegas 51s closer and had the second most saves in the PCL with 19.

Sewald posted a 3.29 ERA, which isn’t as bad as it looks when you consider the league average was 4.46 and he pitched 36 of his 65.2 innings at home. Sewald continued to be successful because he kept throwing strikes and kept striking people out (80 in 65.2 innings).

The Mets bullpen was starting to tire in September as injuries decimated the starting rotation forcing Rafael Montero and Gabriel Ynoa to make starts. Surprisingly, the highly successful Sewald didn’t receive a promotion to help the Mets down the stretch.

Now the Mets have a decision to make with Sewald. He needs to be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from upcoming Rule 5 draft on December 8th. It’s seems like a pretty clear cut choice to me to protect a guy with a career 2.20 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 307 strikeouts compared to just 59 walks in 258 innings.

Paul has decided to take his talents to the Mexican Winter League this offseason to pitch for the Naranjeros de Hermosillo. He has five saves, 0.90 ERA, eight strikeouts and has yet to walk a batter in ten innings.

Sewald relies on precision control, great preparation (see below), pounding the strike zone, and a nasty slider that helps him get hitters out.

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MMN – First off congrats on a great regular season and getting off to a good start in Mexico.

Paul – Thank you I really appreciate it! I finished really well and it’s carried over to pitching down here so I’m excited with how I’m throwing.

MMN – What was your motivation to pitch in the Mexican Winter League and how did it come about?

Paul – Well I had a couple of good reasons to play. Obviously, the money down here is a lot better than it is in the minor leagues. So that was a really nice incentive. Also, it just gives me another outlet to showcase myself as a pitcher. There’s plenty of scouts here and I have coaches from teams in MLB here so it’s a good chance for me to show what I can do and possibly give me another opportunity to play somewhere down the road.

MMN – What is it like competition wise, what level of the minor leagues would you compare it too?

Paul – I think the competition has been pretty good! I’ve seen plenty of guys I’ve faced over the years and a handful of guys with at least some major league time. So I would probably say maybe AA possibly some AAA lineups.

MMN – What is the travel like? Stadiums? Atmosphere at games? Do the american players stay in housing together?

Paul – Travel isn’t bad! The league is pretty spread out so most of the places we fly but there are a couple 3-5 hour bus trips too. Most of the stadiums are incredible. AAA type stadiums and the crowds are huge and exciting so that part has been great! They put the Americans up in a hotel together and so it’s easy for us all to be together.

MMN – You said playing in Mexico was in part to showcase yourself, is that because at the moment you aren’t on the Mets 40-man roster and thus could be exposed to the Rule 5 draft?

Paul – Yeah that is the main reason! Now I’m with the Mets and they have ownership of me and I want to play at Citi Field soon! So the 40-man roster with the Mets would be great but if they don’t put me on, then yes the main reason for me coming down here is to put myself out there in hopes to get picked in the Rule 5 in December.

MMN – Were you surprised that you didn’t get a promotion to the big leagues this year, especially in September?

Paul – I wouldn’t say “surprised” because nothing has ever been easy or given to me so I wasn’t expecting it! But was I disappointed? Absolutely! I felt like I’ve done enough to show them I’m ready for that next step by pitching well at every single level. I know I can pitch in the big leagues I just need an opportunity to show that I can!

MMN – Absolutely agree and let’s talk about how you were successful this year. Did you have to do anything different playing in the hitter friendly PCL to get hitters out?

Paul – The PCL, especially in Las Vegas, is such a hard place to pitch. You try to stick with what makes you successful to start with and that’s the only way you can approach it. I didn’t want to pitch scared or pitch away from contact just because it’s a good hitters park and league. The most important thing for me was to attack hitters and throw strikes no matter how the ball travels. And I think I did a good job of that whether I was pitching well or struggling and just stayed with that process.

MMN – Anyone who’s seen you pitch knows a lot of success comes from your great breaking ball. When did you learn to throw it, from who and has it changed at all over your time in the minors?

Paul – Yeah my slider is definitely my best pitch and my go-to! I learned it right after my freshman year of college before I went to summer ball. I struggled a lot with offspeed and my dad (Mark Sewald, 16th RD, 1979 by Boston Red Sox) had me try the way he threw it when he played. Instantly I found something I was comfortable with and could throw strikes and it was good. Honestly, I haven’t really messed with it much since then as it’s been successful ever since I learned it and so I’m confident in it and that’s the most important thing.

MMN – Some pitchers have said that the elevation in Vegas flattened their breaking ball, is that something you had trouble with or heard of from other guys on last years team?

Paul – Well it definitely had an effect on it yeah. I mean my numbers on the road were a lot better than at home and my breaking ball sharpness is a direct correlation to that so absolutely.

MMN – One of the knocks or question marks that scouts and fans have on you is your lack of velocity, what is your response to that?

Paul – Well it’s true I don’t throw as hard as most scouts and coaches want. It’s been the thing that’s held me back my whole life so I know that by now. I try to make up for it with above average spin rates, deception and location of it. And my numbers say that I’ve been successful doing that so I’m going to continue to do so, but I understand it’s easy for people to scout the radar gun and it’s unfair but that’s just the way it is.

MMN – Who passes along your spin rates to you?

Paul – Well I actually have a good friend from high school who works with sabermetrics scouting and he lets me know every once in a while how it’s going. But also TJ Barra (Manager of Baseball Research and Development) with the Mets sent me some info on it and some of the things the numbers say about my success with those spin rates.

MMN – What do you do to prepare for hitters you may face that night/in a series?

Paul – I have a book of all my at-bats facing every guy from each team. I keep track of the pitches, the speeds, the locations, the results. So then by those I’ll write any notes I saw in their swing or approach against me. Then before the series I’ll go read through and get a little reminder of each hitter so that I might have a better idea of how to attack them when I face any given hitter.

MMN – What is it like to see teammates like Seth Lugo and T.J. Rivera be successful and help the Mets make playoffs this year?

Paul – Well it’s exciting when you see your friends get to achieve their dream just like I’ve always dreamed about. It helped my confidence because I know if those guys are having success at the major league level I know I can too. So that helps a lot too.

MMN – Thanks again for answering all my questions Paul, and hope to see you in a Mets uniform soon.

Paul – Absolutely. Thanks for your support we really appreciate it! I hope so too. Soon would be great!

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MMO Exclusive: “House of Nails” by Lenny Dykstra http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/07/mmo-exclusive-house-of-nails-by-lenny-dykstra.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/07/mmo-exclusive-house-of-nails-by-lenny-dykstra.html/#comments Mon, 04 Jul 2016 10:00:21 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=216526 lenny-dykstra-3

Lenny Dykstra is a man who has lived his life in grave fear.  Even from his youth, he was a scared person. The inception of his innate fear was different from the majority of society’s phobias.  It was not the dark that irked him; it wasn’t monsters; it was not a fear of harm or abandonment. Lenny ‘Nails’ Dykstra’s trepidation was that he would be just average.

He was born into a world that he saw as “The Middle” and would fight each waking moment with every ounce of his being to transcend this status he dubbed unacceptable for himself. The Nails that we have recently seen and heard promoting his new book all over newspapers, television, and radio is the remnants of the man who furiously wrestled against this fear every moment of his life. And let me tell you first hand, it’s one incredible story.

IMG_4724Fear is an unparalleled motivator. The genesis of the gritty, reckless player we saw on the baseball field for twelve years, double the average for an MLB player, was this fear. It inspired the highest of highs and lowest of lows for the man they call Nails, which he documents in his work with no reservations.

Lenny’s fear motivated him to pinnacles of success that rival anyone’s boyhood dreams which are explained in poignant detail throughout the chapters. It led to some incredible highs in his professional life such as World Series appearances with both the Mets and Phillies, leading the National League in hits and on base percentage in 1990, as well as an MVP caliber season in 1993 where he led MLB in plate appearances and the NL in at-bats, runs scored, hits, and walks.

It also led to amazing and noteworthy stories from around the world in his personal life such as chance meetings with the likes of Robert DeNiro, Mickey Rourke, Charlie Sheen, and Michael Jordan. The stories involve how professional athletes and celebrities live to a degree of excess that is unfathomable to common folk such as us.

These stories are impressively chronicled in his work House of Nails that he penned himself after firing a ghost writer who he felt made the work too sensationalized and artificial. About the famed ghost writer he relieved of the responsibility, “It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t personal,” Lenny said on the Opie and Jim Show on Sirius XM radio, “God himself couldn’t be my ghost writer. It had to come from me to be authentic.”

That same innate fear that stalked him his entire life, however, also brought him to failures of epic proportions. It led to his reliance on amphetamines, drugs, and prescription medication to perform at his unmatched level of intensity, his choice to use steroids, overextending himself financially after retirement, the failure of his marriage, and even his eventual incarceration.

He explains in detail the reasons why he chose to take performance enhancing substances prior to the 1990 season with the Phillies. His reasoning is consistent with his philosophy of ‘fearing the middle’. As he shares in his book, Lenny comments, “I am not proud to say I did it…I had to do it. I was not physically constructed to withstand an entire 162 game season particularly the way I played.”

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Any fan of baseball or teammate of Dykstra will laud his enthusiasm and all or nothing attitude. He would stop at nothing to help his team win and to make the spectators and cities that supported him happy. Dykstra further rationalized his choice by adding, “I am going to be one of the 26 people in the whole world to start on a Major League Baseball team playing center field.”

Even more incredibly, he would have to be able to do it for years at Veterans Stadium, on a notoriously treacherous cement like playing surface

No matter what the challenge or avenue, Lenny Dykstra would dedicate all of his energy and attention into trying to become “The Best”. His pursuit of this status was almost obsessive. Whatever he chose to undertake became an all-consuming passion. He learned every nuance and studied every detail of said endeavor to make sure that he was maximizing his potential.

In this book, he details his playing philosophy that brought him to elite status. His fascinating take on hitting, pitch selection, and situational performance is definitely worth taking notice of. He later explains investment strategies that led him to draw the admiration of famed hedge fund manager Jim Cramer. His extremely complicated “deep-in-the-money” options trading system made me, an economics teacher, have to go back to my textbooks to understand it. (And by the way, it is sound, efficient, and a bit risky, which I am sure appealed to the gambler within him.) Lenny also details his business plan for the Players Club magazine, his ascension to business owning success with a chain of three car wash locations in California, and his role in ending the baseball labor stoppage in 1994.

His addictive personality would lead him to exploit every loophole and transcend every rule or regulation stopping at nothing to succeed. In his mind, if he failed, it was back to that ominous average and middle status. For Lenny, he would rather be dead than average. On a couple of occasions as he recounts, he almost was.

In this fantastic article in the Los Angeles Times by the esteemed Jim Murray which is referenced in House of Nails, Lenny is described a player who, “…doesn’t belong in this point in time anyway.” He was seen as a player who was born into the wrong era of baseball. This article was written 26 years ago and couldn’t be more applicable even today.

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A lot of press has been generated over his comments about his time with the New York Mets. From someone who read every inch of this book twice, let me clarify some of them for you. Yes, he is critical of Davey Johnson. He all but blames him exclusively for the 1988 loss in the NLCS to the Dodgers. Amazing, huh? A person being critical of a coach for his decisions? I urge you to search any professional coach’s name on social media and see how many positive comments there are about them. Better yet, listen to some of the comments made by parents at your child’s next little league game.

By today’s standards, based on some of the skipper’s choices in that crucial series, Davey Johnson would have been run out of town a lot sooner.  (See game 6 and 7 box-score if you don’t recall, or better yet read the book.)  Why Davey? Reasoning is simple.  He was contradictory to Lenny’s quest. His quest to be the best, to be all or nothing. Davey platooned Lenny with Mookie Wilson and sat him out of some big games. Dykstra wanted to play every single inning of every single game. How can we fault an athlete for that?

In almost all cases, he is complimentary of his teammates. Particularly Keith Hernandez‘s knack for the clutch hit, Ron Darling‘s yeoman like work ethic, as well as the importance of Gary Carter and the appreciation he keeps for a guy like Gary who was able to do it all and still ‘Play Clean’.

He explains to you what each person’s unique skill set brought to the table and only is critical of those who have mostly been criticized before. For example, George Foster‘s tirade against what he dubbed as the “racist Mets organization” for benching him for Kevin Mitchell (both were African American players, by the way) as well as Foster’s actions in the epic brawl between the Mets against the Reds in 1986 where he chose not to fight.

He is also critical of Greg Jefferies who he dubbed ‘A losing player’.  Read any other book about the 1980′s New York Mets and this story will be corroborated. His book taught me that Greg Jefferies wrote a letter to WFAN to plea for fans and the media to stop criticizing him. Could you imagine the reaction in the twitter-sphere to something like this letter today?

You may not like his lifestyle. You may not like his crass personality, sometimes offensive choice of words, or his womanizing drug filled history. Chances are, though, if you were a Mets or Phillies supporter in the 1980′s or 1990′s this man was responsible for some of the best moments of your fanhood. Some of the comments taken out of context that have been recently published paint him as quite the villain who is telling tales out of school.

In the last two days I have been amazingly lucky to be granted direct access to Nails and his team. What I have seen is a gracious, generous, and humorous man that has lived an unparalleled life and wishes to tell us all about it. I for one am thankful that he did, because he was unquestionably my favorite player on my favorite team during my favorite time in it’s history. I highly recommend you take the opportunity to review his life.

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MMO Exclusive: Orthopedic Surgeon Explains David Wright’s Neck Procedure http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/06/mmo-exclusive-orthopedic-surgeon-explains-david-wrights-neck-procedure.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/06/mmo-exclusive-orthopedic-surgeon-explains-david-wrights-neck-procedure.html/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 16:18:17 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=216114 david wright

Exactly two weeks ago, the Mets season took a turn for the worse when third baseman David Wright underwent a cervical discectomy and fusion procedure on his neck to repair a herniated disk. Mets fans and media alike rushed to the proverbial Panic City with proclamations that Wright was “finished” and that the Mets’ season would go by the wayside. In the midst of all the pandemonium, nobody bothered to actually learn what Dr. Robert Watkins did while operating on the Mets Captain.

Enter David Geier, a South Carolina based surgeon who specializes in orthopedic sports medicine. Before launching his own practice in a suburb of Charleston, Dr. Geier spent eight years as the director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. He also worked with several professional teams across the country, including the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Rams, and the US women’s national soccer team. Here’s his medical explanation of David Wright’s injury, surgery, and recovery.

The purpose of a cervical discectomy and fusion procedure is to alleviate the pressure on a spinal nerve caused by a herniated disk; and in David Wright’s case, spinal stenosis as well.

To fully understand the procedure, we first need to understand the issue of a herniated disc. Cervical vertebrae are composed of about 80 percent water, giving their centers a jelly-like consistency. When a disc ruptures, the jelly-like center bulges through the annulus (a protective wall for the spinal cord) and puts pressure on the spinal nerve, causing pain.

The cervical discectomy and fusion procedure itself can be broken down into two parts.

“In a discectomy, the surgeon goes in and takes out that leaked disc material to eliminate the pressure on the spinal nerve,” Geier explains.

“Sometimes only a part of the disc needs to be removed, but in severe cases, a surgeon can remove the entire piece.”

A fusion is a more advanced procedure and is required only if there are more advanced problems in the area, according to Dr. Geier.

“You still have the disc material that’s leaked out, but you might have some arthritis changes between the bones or some instability, potentially even some abnormal motion after taking out the disc.”

The actual fusion part of the procedure is self explanatory.

“Essentially, you fuse the two bones together to restrict motion and therefore allow healing and uninhibited nerve function.”

Surgeons then replace the removed disk with either a bone graft from the hip or a cage device, before attaching a metal plate to the vertebrae above and below to provide stability.

The goal of the fusion is to prevent stress on the bone by limiting motion. This in turn aids bone healing and nerve function.

The actual procedure can be seen in an animated video you can view here.

In terms of returning to baseball, Geier was noncommittal on David Wright. He was insistent that recovery varies on a case to case basis, with factors such as age, fitness, and activity level playing a part.

“It’s so variable, that’s why nobody’s going to be able to give you a completely correct explanation, and nobody’s going to be wrong.”

It will take about four to six months for the bone in Wright’s neck to heal. Extensive physical therapy will also be necessary for him regain full nerve function. Wright would likely return to baseball activities at some point in the offseason before needing reps against live pitching. With recovery so unpredictable, Geier gives a broad time frame for a return.

“It could be anywhere from six months to a year.”

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MMO Exclusive: Jason Bay Wishes Things Could Have Been Better With Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/06/mmo-exclusive-jason-bay-wishes-things-could-have-been-better-with-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/06/mmo-exclusive-jason-bay-wishes-things-could-have-been-better-with-mets.html/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 16:23:14 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=214605 jason bay hanging head

From All-Star to disappointment; that’s what fans saw as Jason Bay took the podium last night representing the Pirates at the 2016 MLB Draft.

Pittsburgh fans had a two-time All-Star and a middle-of-the-order slugger. Mets fans, however, saw what could have been, rather than what was.

Bay, in the area for the first time since retiring in 2013, holds similar feelings about his time in New York.

“When I look back,” he told MMO. “I just wish I had done better.”

Bay hit just .234 with 26 home runs in three seasons with the Mets after signing a 4-year, $66 million contract. He was bought out of his contract in 2012.

“I don’t regret it by any means, but I went there to do a job and I didn’t do it,” Bay said candidly about his Mets career. “Ultimately I live with that. It’s a performance-based game, it’s ‘what have you done?’ And I didn’t get it done.”

Bay said he was thrilled to see the Amazin’s capture the National League Pennant last season, and marveled at the quality of the “amazing” pitching staff. The 37-year-old still keeps in touch with several former teammates, including David Wright.

“Nobody cares more than he does,” he said. “He signed with the Mets at a time where things weren’t going well. He wanted to be here. He’s loyal to the Wilpons, he’s loyal to the team, and that goes a long way.”

Bay, who endured two concussions and a broken rib in New York, said injuries were one of the most infuriating parts of his Mets tenure.

“The toughest part is when you’re not healthy, there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “You can’t do anyone any good and that’s a very frustrating feeling.”

While he said he sympathizes with Wright’s situation, Bay stopped short of likening their struggles with injuries.

“I didn’t really build up any good will, I kind of came in here with expectations and didn’t get it done,” he said. “David’s built up an endless supply of good will in my opinion.”

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MMO Exclusive: Meet The Fan Who Rescued Mike Piazza’s Post 9/11 Jersey http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/04/mmo-exclusive-meet-the-fan-who-rescued-mike-piazzas-post-911-jersey.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/04/mmo-exclusive-meet-the-fan-who-rescued-mike-piazzas-post-911-jersey.html/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 15:52:32 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=210122 Mets' Mike Piazza hits 8th inning homerun to lead Mets past

Thanks to Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, we all discovered that the post 9/11 jersey worn by Mike Piazza when he hit his epic homerun, was put up for auction with Goldin Auctions. The jersey faced an uncertain future until a group of three die-hard Mets fans stepped forward and purchased the jersey for a record $365,000. Part of that group included Anthony Scaramucci.

For those who don’t know Mr. Scaramucci, he is the founder and co-managing partner of the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital, founder of the SkyBridge Alternatives (“SALT”) Conference and host of iconic financial television show “Wall Street Week.”

Despite his busy schedule, he was able to answer some of my questions regarding his Mets fandom and the Piazza jersey:

How did you become a Mets fan?

Growing up on Long Island, I got hooked in 1969 with the Miracle Mets and the 1973 team that made it back to the World Series. They could have lost every game after that. It wouldn’t matter to a true fan.

What is your favorite Mets memory?

I’d have to say winning the World Series in ‘86. Last year’s World Series run was also a thrill, seeing our young team get back to winning ways. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the franchise.

What were your recollections from Mike Piazza’s post 9/11 homerun?

The 9/11 attacks had an impact on all Americans, but especially those living in and around New York. It was almost guaranteed that you knew someone directly or indirectly who died that day. There was no precedent for how to respond to such a tragedy. When should life return to normal? Should sports resume, and if so when? Should we play games in New York? I felt very strongly that we needed to get things back to normal as quickly as possible to honor the fallen and send a message to the world that you cannot disrupt our way of life.

In the stadium, everyone was tense and uneasy for most of the game. Players were hesitant to make a hard slide or argue a call. Everyone was sort of going through the motions. When Piazza hit that home run, the place erupted, the old suspension system at Shea was literally bouncing, everyone was hugging each other and there wasn’t a dry eye on the place. It was an outpouring of grief and the beginning of the healing process for New Yorkers and for the country.

What did the jersey mean to you?

The jersey to me is a symbol, a symbol of American resolve and resilience in the face of unspeakable tragedy, a symbol that no matter the adversity we will always pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move forward. Some might say it was just a baseball game and it’s just a jersey, but anyone who was there or watching that day knows differently.

Why did you decide to purchase the jersey?

I know the jersey meant a lot symbolically to the people of New York – 9/11 first responders to families of the deceased to fans and former players – and when the opportunity came to get it back my partners and I just couldn’t let the opportunity pass. We wanted to make sure it came back home to New York to be displayed in the public domain forever.

At any point, did you ever consider wearing it around like George Costanza wearing Babe Ruth’s jersey on Seinfeld?

You didn’t think I would pay all that money without trying the jersey on did you? Unfortunately it isn’t quite my size. In true New York fashion, I’ve mostly been carrying it around in a garment bag on a cheap wire hanger.

Where is the jersey first going to be displayed?

We’re not 100% sure on that yet. All three venues where it will rotate (the 9/11 Memorial Museum, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Citi Field) have to figure out some display logistics, so in the meantime we’ll be showing it around and I’m going to bring it out to Las Vegas for the SkyBridge SALT Conference in May. Hopefully the flight stewardess has room to hang it up in the pilots’ closet.

How long will the jersey be on display?

We are writing a clause into the deal so the jersey will forever be displayed in the public domain, hopefully well after we’re dead and gone.

How do you feel when people thank you and your partners for purchasing the jersey?

I’m conflicted on that. On one hand obviously I appreciate the kind words and support, but I also don’t want to pretend like I’m some kind of hero for buying a jersey. There were thousands and thousands of heroes on 9/11 – workers in the towers herding others to safety, first responders rushing up into the burning buildings, volunteers digging through toxic rubble for days on end in hopes of finding one or two miraculous survivors. I feel fortunate that my success has put me in a position to contribute to a gesture like this, but the jersey and this moment isn’t about me, it’s about honoring the legacy of those who died that day.

What are your predictions for the 2016 season?  

I’m an optimistic guy, but I think the Mets are going to win the whole thing. We have one of the greatest pitching staffs of all time and it’s going to be fun to see those young guys grow. Management did a great job keeping Cespedes and making some nice additions to the team. It’s going to be a year to remember.

I would also like to thank Mr. Scaramucci for taking some time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. I would also like to thank him and his partners for purchasing the jersey and forever sharing it with the people of New York. When I tell my son about 9/11, I will also tell him how Piazza’s homerun uplifted our city and our country after the worst and most devastating terrorist attacks in United States history. 

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MMO Exclusive: Catching Up With Darryl Strawberry http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/04/mmo-exclusive-catching-up-with-darryl-strawberry.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/04/mmo-exclusive-catching-up-with-darryl-strawberry.html/#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2016 15:32:37 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=209244  IMG_4345 2

Baseball players tend to disappear after retirement. Without the spotlight of national media, or admiration of thousands of fans, they fade back into mainstream society. They leave only memories, and their absence from the game makes it easy to forget that these guys we watched on TV are still real people. My mission is to make fans remember these forgotten players by seeking them out and talking to them in our quest to answer our burning question, “Where are they now?”

I recently ran in to Darryl Strawberry at a Syracuse Crunch hockey game and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the 1986 Mets, playing baseball in Queens and the Bronx, and his life after baseball.  A huge thanks to the Syracuse Crunch PR department for permitting us to do this interview.

For those of you looking to listen, here’s the podcast.

Noah: So you won a World Series, played on several contending teams, made nine all star appearences and put up some outstanding numbers over your career. Looking back on it all, what was your finest moment while on the Mets?

Darryl: The finest moment from my time on the team was coming to a place of winning. 1986 especially was a great year for us, winning the National League Championship after going through a great Houston ball club before winning in the World Series.

Noah: What was it like playing on that 1986 team? You guys could make a case that you were one of the best in history.

Darryl: Well we were, and we always will be one of the best teams in history. I don’t think (today) that you can find a group of guys who had such determination (to win) no matter what the circumstances were. We always knew how to battle back, and that’s what baseball is all about.

Noah: You also won rookie of the year in 1983 after being drafted first overall. How did you cope with the pressure of playing in New York as a high draft pick?

Darryl: Once I got to (New York) and got comfortable, my hitting coach Jim Frey helped me settle in (physically). Things started to work out for me because I started to come to the ballpark early everyday to prepare myself. As a young player you have to do that at the major league level to be successful.

Noah: Can you pinpoint any one player or coach who shaped you as a player or as an individual?

Darryl: Well I think I would say Jim Frey, the hitting coach at the time. He had a lot to do with helping me be successful during my rookie season. And then Bill Robinson and Davey Johnson came over and they really moved me forward in my career, helping me learn the game and play it the right way.

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Noah: We can say that -and Mets fans everywhere will agree with me on this one- game 6 of the 1986 World Series was one of the most iconic moments in Mets history. Take me through the last few innings of that game, what was the atmosphere like in the dugout?

Darryl: We were struggling there for a while because we didn’t know if we could come back. We started to put things together with hits here and hits there and we just tried to stay focused as a team. It didn’t surprise me to see guys coming through because that was what we were about that whole season. We were always in situations where we needed to come back in ball games and we knew how to do that.

Noah: What was your reaction when Jesse Orosco recorded that final out?

Darryl: It’s done! We finally did it, we are the champions of baseball. It was something that we all were striving for all season, and we didn’t know if we were going to accomplish it going in, but we did.

Noah: You faced some of the greatest pitchers in baseball during your career. Who were you most scared to face and why?

Darryl: I wasn’t scared, but facing the great Nolan Ryan was difficult for me. He was just a different breed, he had a different look about himself, and I never feared anyone until I faced him for the first time. There was a lot of fear in my heart then but as time went by, I started to get comfortable against him. I then got to a point where I believed I could face anybody, it didn’t matter who was on the mound.

Noah: After you signed with the Dodgers, was there anything you knew you would miss about playing in New York?

Darryl: Yeah the fans! Definitely not the media, even though I had some friends in there who treated me well. But a lot of them weren’t very nice because they didn’t know us, and they didn’t follow us everyday. They just spouted off opinions. But yeah, I definitely missed the fans most. They’re a very aggressive group, and I really loved that. I became comfortable with them, used to them, and their (aggressiveness) shaped my style of play.

Noah: Speaking of playing in New York, can you describe your experience playing for both the Mets and the Yankees? How was playing for each team different?

Darryl: The Mets are part of National League baseball, so it’s a speed game, and I got to run a lot. Going to the American League, it was about going for the homerun, which I was okay with. When I played on the Yankees, I had the chance to play on some great winning teams in 1996, 1998, and 1999 under the great Joe Torre. Playing for the Yankees was amazing and I also had some amazing years playing for the Mets.

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Noah: So now that you’ve been relatively out of the media spotlight for some time, tell me, what have you done since moving on from professional baseball?

Darryl: I’m an ordained minister now. I travel, I’m an evagelist, I preach the gospel. My ministry is Strawberryministries.org. I also spend a lot of time helping people. I have a (drug) treatment center in Florida called the Darryl Strawberry Recovery Center where I’m helping young people who struggle with substance abuse get better. It’s a chance for me to give back and show people that they can recover and that they can really change.

Noah: Where specifically has your retirement taken you?

Darryl: It’s taken me to a wonderful place. It’s better than baseball, better than anything that I could have ever imagined. I’m answering the call of my life and the call of God, who would have ever thought that I’d be preaching the gospel one day.

Noah: So tell me Darryl, do you have any regrets from your time with the Mets or your time in professional baseball?

Darryl: No regrets whatsoever. We all have a journey in life, and we all have to go on it; even though we don’t know what it’s going to be. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish the race (of life) and I’m just really grateful for the way my life has changed and the way that I’m finishing the race; giving back and helping others.

Noah: But that said, your career ended much earlier than it should have. You had 280 homers by age 29, and you were even drawing comparisons to Hank Aaron. Do you ever wonder what could have been?

Darryl: No, I never think about what could have been. I deal with what was and the way my course ran. I have no regrets. I think that too many people look back over the past and they can never move forward. I needed to move forward in my life and that’s what I did.

Noah: That’s a great way to be. Just switching gears now, I’m going to ask you a little bit about the Mets today. How closely have you been following the team?

Darryl: I really don’t follow them, I really don’t follow baseball. It’s nothing personal, my life is just very busy doing things to help others that I don’t really have a lot of time to (follow baseball) at this point.

Noah: Michael Conforto, the Mets’ current left fielder is another young talented left handed hitter who has a sweet swing just like you did. He was also a high draft pick. What advice would you offer a player like that for playing in New York?

Darryl: Work hard, have fun, and don’t get discouraged. There are a lot of ups and downs as you learn, but the most important thing is that you have to believe in your ability. I always believed in my own ability, no matter what anyone else had to say.

Noah: How do the 2016 Mets stack up to your 1986 Mets?

Darryl: (laughs) They don’t even compare, they’re not even close to what we were!

Noah: And lastly, if you could give any message to Mets fans today, what would it be?

Darryl: Just keep believing. Don’t get discouraged if the team doesn’t win right away. It took (my teams) a couple years to put the pieces together before we started winning. I know last year they made it to the World Series, but it won’t be a failure if they don’t make it back this year. As long as they have a great season and make it back to the playoffs, playing as well as they can, they’ll be great. Hopefully this team has made adjustments with learning the fundamentals of playing baseball because you have to make the plays in the World Series and the playoffs to win the championship. I hope that they’ve learned that over the past year.

Noah: Thank you Darryl, really appreciate your time.

Darryl: You got it.

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MMO Exclusive: ESPN’s Jayson Stark Gives His Take on the Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-espns-jayson-stark-gives-his-take-on-the-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-espns-jayson-stark-gives-his-take-on-the-mets.html/#comments Thu, 31 Mar 2016 13:30:47 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=208479 david wright

Jayson Stark is most known for his work at the national level covering baseball for ESPN and as a senior writer for ESPN.com.  He’s been around the game for four decades, writing columns, authoring three baseball books, and reporting on ESPN and MLB Network.  I recently caught up with Jayson and he was kind enough to share some of his time and give me some of his insights and the perception of the Mets from outside the New York bubble. Please enjoy.

Noah: Coming off an unexpected run of success in 2015, what’s been the atmosphere surrounding the Mets in spring training?

Jayson: They’re very upbeat and they know that they’re built to win. They have the mindset that they are going to play baseball in October. That mentality is something we haven’t seen from a Mets team in a decade in spring training. The question now is – we know they’re built for October – can they get there?

Noah: Tell me about it. Who’s responsible for this change in attitude?

Jayson: I don’t think that it’s any one person or any one player. I think it’s just success. A reflection of finally having that rotation together, having Zack Wheeler on the horizon, and bringing Yoenis Cespedes back. This is the heart of a team that played in the World Series, played really well, and still matches up very well against a lot of other teams in baseball. I don’t think anybody has to give a pep talk, this team understands how good they can be.

Noah: How is this team different from ones in years past, both on and off the field?

Jayson: On the field, you’ve got a rotation that’s built to win any matchup against any lineup. Off the field, there’s finally a situation where there’s not a lot of controversy. They don’t have the debates over innings restrictions or have a lot of talk about how much money they did or didn’t spend. Nobody cares about the Wilpons or Bernie Madoff right now, and that’s refreshing. It’s just finally a baseball conversation, surrounding this team.

After Sandy Alderson came in, that regime spent a lot of time just tearing down what had been there before it arrived. (All of their actions) have been leading to this point. I’m not going to say they’re the perfect team, a team without holes. They’re a team that I’m going to pick to win the World Series. If you’re going to make a list of the six or seven teams in the sport that have the best chance to win the World Series, they’ve got to be on it.

yoenis cespedes

Noah: Size up the Mets offseason moves. What do you think of the acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes and Antonio Bastardo?

Jayson: The Mets went into the offseason without any expectation that Yoenis Cespedes was coming back. In fact, they were fully prepared to move on without him.

With Cespedes, we saw what a franchise changing figure he could be over a short period of time. That said, he’s never been a franchise changing figure over the course of a full season. Still, he’s a really intriguing player with a certain aura about him, and he gets on streaks where he changes the face of a lineup. People can feed off of him when he’s on those rolls. But then he has other periods where he’s not that guy. The Mets are built in a way where he has to be the guy he was during the end of last season for them to be successful. There are questions in the minds of a lot of people in baseball over whether he can be that guy for a full season. Even so, he might only be in New York for just a year, and there’s no such thing as a bad one year contract.

Antonio Bastardo is a guy that I’ve seen pitch a lot and he’s got stuff that’s as good as any left handed pitcher in baseball. He doesn’t get hit hard, he’s got a big swing and miss component to his game. You don’t have to necessarily use him against just left handed hitters. I think in the way that the Mets use their staff and their bullpen, he’s a good fit. But like Cespedes, he goes on stretches where he doesn’t pitch with confidence, he gets himself in trouble by pitching away from contact and walking too many hitters. I think he can be really exasperating to watch because of that. Sometimes, when you need him in a big spot to be the guy, he doesn’t show up. On the other hand, you can match him up against any left handed hitter in the game and he’s got the stuff to strike them out.

With both guys, the upside is tremendous when they’re at their best, but they have that other side to them where they can be really frustrating players.

Noah: Of the young starting pitchers, who looks poised to take the greatest step in their development this year?

Jayson: That’s a really tough question. They’re all good options. I love Syndergaard. To me deGrom has already taken that next step towards becoming one of the best pitchers in the game. I also think that this is the year for Matt Harvey. He’s been a human highlight reel when he’s pitched, but this is the year where he pitches a full season, contends for the Cy Young and dominates from start to finish. He just has that look about him, he’s a star. So if I had to pick one, I would say him.

noah syndergaard

Noah: How are these young aces handling the pressure this season? They’re really being banked on to carry the Mets back to the playoffs.

Jayson: They’re a really confident group, and this helps them a lot. They’ve all done nothing except succeed, so why wouldn’t they be confident! I think the fact that there are four of them takes the heat off of any one of them. Harvey and deGrom are a little more advanced than Matz and Syndergaard. But I think this is one of those situations like on those great 1990′s Braves teams with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz where everybody feeds off of everybody else. It’s really a great situation to have.

Noah: So what should we realistically expect from the young aces this year? Is this when they all finally put it together?

Jayson: I really think that Matz and Syndergaard are going to find out how long the season really is and I think you have to factor that in to their performance expectations. I think you also have to wonder who stays healthy, statistics across baseball tell us that 50 percent of all starting pitchers go on the disabled list in any given year. So for the Mets, I think it’s a question of which two get hurt. But if they’re all healthy from April to September, this should be the best rotation in baseball, period.

Noah: We all know about the concerns surrounding David Wright‘s back, the spinal stenosis condition that was discovered last year, right now, what are the organization’s realistic expectations for him this season?

Jayson: Honestly, I think their bar is set low. I don’t think the organization would ever say that publicly, but I don’t think he’s a guy that they’re counting on for a whole lot. If you think about they way in which he was used, treated, and managed after he came off the disabled list, they were just trying to take care of him. This year they’re just going to try to get him through the season. Given what we’ve seen this spring, he’s barely played, I don’t think they expect a lot from him. This is the right approach. If you don’t expect much and you get more than you bargained for, that’s always a lot better than the other way around.

Noah: Is there any glaring weakness that this team acknowledges out of the gate?

Jayson: I don’t think that there’s a glaring weakness, but I do think that it’s team with some questions. We mentioned David Wright and their shortstop defense is certainly a question. I like their lineup with Cespedes back, a full year of Michael Conforto. But do I like their lineup more than the Nationals? I don’t know if I do. So I do think that there are questions, but no weaknesses. They’re definitely a team that nobody would want to play in October.

Noah: Now taking everything into consideration, what’s a realistic expectation for this team this season?

Jayson: Well if you ask them, they would say, “Win the World Series.” I think for me, a realistic possibility would be winning the NL East, get to October, and then it’s all matchups. There aren’t very many teams that they don’t match up with. It’s just a matter of getting there.

The National League is going to be very difficult to win. With at least five really bad teams and six or seven really good ones, there are going to be a couple teams that may win a lot of games, but not make it to October. That’s going to be the key for the Mets, making it there, and they should.

Noah: So what would constitute a successful season? Is it World Series or bust?

Jayson: I don’t like that way of looking at things, “World Series or bust.” I don’t think that it’s a fair way for any team to judge its season, not in this sport. For me, a successful season happens if they keep the aces healthy, win the NL East, and take your chances and see how good you are in October. I’d like to see these pitchers all take a step forward and see how good they can be. What a show, right?

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MMO Exclusive: Adam Rubin Sizes Up Mets As Spring Training Draws To An End http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-adam-rubin-sizes-up-mets-as-spring-training-draws-to-an-end.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-adam-rubin-sizes-up-mets-as-spring-training-draws-to-an-end.html/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 12:30:14 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=208477 terry collins spring

ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin is well known for his intensive coverage of the Mets, live tweeting games, interviewing players, and breaking stories as they happen.  I recently had the chance to talk with Adam and hear his take on the young aces, David Wright, and his expectations of the team this season.

Noah: Coming off an unexpected run of success in 2015, what has been the atmosphere surrounding the Mets this spring training?

Adam: Well it’s certainly upbeat, and it’s warranted. The starting pitching is absolutely elite. With the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the hitting is very strong. The team understands that they are going to be the hunted this year and there’s going to be a lot of expectations of them. But they believe that they are justified in being the favorite in the national league this year.

Noah: Who’s setting the tone for this mindset?

Adam: Well Terry Collins met with the players at the start of spring training and said to them “you’re the hunted now.” But I don’t know if there’s any one person setting that tone. There’s just a lot of confidence, even from the younger players like (Noah) Syndergaard and Matt Harvey. These guys understand that they’re very good and they expect to win.

Noah: Obviously, the talent level on this team is different this year, but how is this team different also off the field?

Adam: With Harvey and Cespedes, there is a swagger that we haven’t really seen since 1986. I don’t think that this team has the same level of craziness, but that swagger is definitely still there.

Noah: For the first time since 2006, the Mets have some pretty decent depth. But that depth also pushes guys like Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares out of defined roles. Now with that said, what are their roles this season and how many at bats can we expect them to get?

Adam: Even though Wilmer Flores is likely not a starter at any position, he may get 400 or more at bats this year. When you think about David Wright, how many games is he realistically going to play? Is it 130, -that’s probably overly optimistic- is it 120, 110? Wilmer’s probably going to be the guy at third base barring something bad happening this last week of spring training. So that’s 40 or 50 games right there that he could play.

Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop looks like he’s going to avoid the disabled list to start the year, but he’s not going to play 162 games so Wilmer is going to get some time there. At second base, Neil Walker‘s numbers against left handed pitching aren’t great, so I bet Wilmer sees some time there as well. And then Lucas Duda isn’t going to face every tough lefty starter, so we may see Wilmer Flores there as the primary back up at first base too. Between the four positions, he could very easily get 400 at bats.

As for Juan Lagares, the resigning of Yoenis Cespedes directly affects him. I think it’s going to be largely like it was during the last two months of last season where Lagares starts against left handed pitching. Otherwise he’s a defensive replacement and a pinch hitter. So not a lot of playing time because the Mets don’t see a ton of left handed pitching, but certainly he’ll be in the mix.

The interesting wrinkle is whether he’s going to play centerfield or left field. Terry Collins recently decided to put Cespedes in center and Lagares in left. I don’t believe that’s going to happen during the regular season, but it’s something to watch.

Noah: What was the logic behind that positional switch? Moving Lagares to left and Cespedes to center doesn’t make a lot of sense, even though Lagares is clearly the better defender.

Adam: Terry’s rationale is that if Cespedes plays just one position, it might be easier for him (to adjust.) But Cespedes won a Gold Glove with the Tigers last year in leftfield before the trade. And Lagares won a Gold Glove in centerfield two years ago with the Mets. So I think that logic is ultimately going to prevail, (the move) just doesn’t make a ton of sense right now.

Noah: You mentioned David Wright and the concerns surrounding his back. Right now, what are the organization’s realistic expectations for him this season?

Adam: Sandy Alderson way early in camp mentioned 130 games as a possibility. But he’s just guessing. I don’t think anyone really knows (how much he’ll play.) David missed four months of last season with the spinal stenosis in his back. Now he knows how to manage it, but it’s not gone. We’ll see how his back responds as the year goes on. He did play the last month of last season plus the playoffs with some strategic rest. He’s going to be rested from time to time, he’s not going to start day games after night games in all likelihood. He’s also 33 years old now, aside from the back, you start seeing skills deteriorate a little bit. So how many games he plays this year is definitely an open question.

Noah: So what are the performance expectations for him this season? I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect 2006 or 2007 David Wright to show up again.

Adam: You’re right. Even aside from the back, I don’t see him generating those kind of power numbers again. He’s a guy who might hit .280 or .290 with 10-15 home runs and a fair amount of doubles. We’ll see what he is, I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that.

harvey syndergaard

Noah: Switching gears now, of the young starting pitching, who looks poised to take the greatest step in their development this season?

Adam: Well if you look at Tommy John surgery (recoveries), usually year two is a lot better than year one. Adam Wainwright for instance, had a full run lower ERA his second year back from Tommy John surgery with the Cardinals. So Matt Harvey could be tremendously better this year than last year; and last year was very good. They say with the exception of that blip against the Astros this spring, Harvey nonetheless has looked sharp this spring training. His slider is back, his fastball velocity is comparable to past years, but it has that late life back too. So certainly Harvey has a chance to take a big step forward.

Still, Noah Syndergaard might end up being the best pitcher of them all when all is said and done. When I asked the Mets players who’s the most intimidating pitcher in baseball, some named Greinke and Kershaw, but the people who named a Met named not Harvey or deGrom, but Syndergaard. It just shows you how much respect he has among his teammates.

Noah: Overall, what should we expect from the young aces this year? Is this when they all put it together?

Adam: There’s no reason to believe that any of them will take steps backward. These are all guys who are number one or number two type pitchers that on paper make up the best pitching staff in baseball. Certainly the Mets are blessed with young starting pitching and any one of those guys can have an elite season.

Noah: I think Mets fans and media can agree that this is the strongest team out of the gate since we’ve seen in a very long time. Still, is there any glaring weakness that this team acknowledges out of the gate?

Adam: Certainly the bullpen (has questions.) I don’t want to say it’s a weakness, but it’s not extraordinary beyond the closer. Jeurys Familia is very good, if you look at his regular season, he didn’t blow a save after July 30th -when he gave up that home run to Justin Upton- until the World Series. However, Addison Reed and Antonio Bastardo as the primary set up men are not extraordinary. Hansel Robles is also a work in progress. So the bullpen is one area to watch.

They also don’t have a lot of team speed, the fielding up the middle -especially with Cespedes in centerfield- is not ideal, and the catchers are working to throw out more runners. So those are some problematic areas, but every team has some issues. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the Mets’ issues compared to other teams’.

Noah: Lastly, what would constitute a successful season for this team? Is it really World Series or bust?

Adam: Well the fans would certainly be very disappointed if they didn’t win the World Series, but it’s not going to be an easy road back. I firmly expect them to win the division, or at least make the playoffs. The Nationals are still a strong team, and I wouldn’t write them off yet. With the Braves and Phillies retooling, I would expect the Mets and Nationals to get a lot of wins off of those two teams and make the postseason.

From there, I wouldn’t say it’s a crap-shoot, certainly the Mets’ starting pitching gives them a distinct edge in the postseason. Still, there’s a lot of talented teams in the National League with the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cardinals shaping up to be strong competition. It’s really hard to say that the Mets will win the World Series or even be in the World Series because of the disparity between the several really good teams and the bad teams. There’s going to be a lot of competition. We’ll see what happens, but they will certainly be back to the playoffs.

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MMO Exclusive: Greg Prince Discusses “Amazin’ Again” and 2015 Season http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-greg-prince-discusses-amazin-again-and-2015-season.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-greg-prince-discusses-amazin-again-and-2015-season.html/#comments Thu, 17 Mar 2016 17:05:43 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=207882 mets win nlcs

We have a special treat for you today as beloved Mets historian, die-hard Mets fan and popular author Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing, was kind enough to answer some questions about his brand new book Amazin’ Again which went on sale March 15.

Amazin’ Again captures all the drama and magic of the New York Mets’ 2015 season that saw them capture the NL East from the Washington Nationals and then defeat the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs to win the National League pennant.

Greg answers a few questions from me and also takes some questions from Mets fans in our MMO Community. Please enjoy…

Joe - I’m so glad to have a true keepsake and treasure to remember the 2015 season with your new book. At what point in the season did you know this was something you wanted to do. Was there a moment in the 2015 season that clicked and became the impetus for your decision to chronicle this exciting year for the Mets?

Greg – The thought crossed my mind in late summer, and a few readers were kind enough to bring it up on their own, but it wasn’t really on my radar until an editor friend of mine got in touch and suggested his publisher might be interested in a Mets Win the World Series book, the catch being the Mets had to win the World Series. This was literally hours before Game One in Kansas City. It was going to be a “quickie” book, designed to be out ASAP after the theoretical parade and draw in fans who conceivably couldn’t get enough of their World Champion Mets.

Well, you know what happened where that was concerned. I thought the project — which I’d been working on between games with the great hope that I could finish it and that would come to be — was dead once Game Five was over. But in a come-from-behind story worthy of the 2015 Mets, I was given the thumbs-up to continue, to expand and, thankfully, to take a little more time to complete it. The thinking was it had been such a milestone season for the Mets and they had achieved plenty in winning the pennant, so why not?

Joe – They say every season has a turning point, but I believe the 2015 Mets season had a few turning points. Wilmer Flores’ wild walk-off was certainly one of them, what other defining moments like that stood out to you?

amazin again greg prince

Greg – The perfect homestand in April reset expectations. In one ten-game stretch, it was as if the Mets stopped being that ridiculous team we’d all gotten used to and demanded to be taken seriously. If they clinched anything that early, it was a sense of self-respect, one that was contagious to us, the fans.

The other big moment, destined to be glossed over (except in my book), was triggered by the West Coast road trip that started July. They were teetering on the edge of oblivion, despite the great start, and weren’t hitting a lick. It was reasonable to expect they’d go to L.A. and San Francisco, face very good teams with, especially in the Dodgers’ case, extraordinary starting pitching, and scuffle. Instead they took two out of three in each series and then came home to sweep a pretty good Diamondbacks club. After all the flailing of May and June, they finished the first half on a 7-2 run and were within whispering distance of Washington.

Without that spurt, I doubt the Mets would have wound up in position to make the Flores home run or the National series matter.

Joe – What were your expectations for the Mets going into the 2015 season and at what point did you start believing that, “Hey, I think this team could go all the way?”

Greg – My well-honed cynicism, which dated to the Collapse of 2007, was willing to cede to the conventional wisdom that the Mets could break .500 in 2015. I thought the Wild Card was a stretch, but not out of the question. The 13-3 start really changed the stakes. The gradual separation of themselves from Washington in August, which culminated in the seven straight wins in Colorado and Philadelphia, made the World Series more a potential reality than a pipe dream.

Joe – 1973, 2000 and now 2015. All three years the Mets advanced to the World Series and lost. Can you draw any comparisons between those teams and which would you say is the best team in terms of talent?

Greg – It strikes me that the 1973 and 2000 teams were peaking within their eras.

Post-1969, the Mets were comprised of continually good pitching and hardly any hitting; in ’73, the stars aligned (several hot Septembers on offense, the legendary malaise of the rest of the N.L. East) to make that work. That group would turn over drastically after a disappointing 1974 and wound up, sadly, a shell of itself by 1977.

The 2000 team, I think it’s often forgotten, was the culmination of a great ascent: rise into contention in 1997, just miss the playoffs in 1998, come very close to the World Series in 1999, win the pennant in 2000. Then there was a precipitous dropoff the year after and another housecleaning that didn’t do much good.

We don’t know the next Met chapter that follows 2015, but what makes me believe this could be the start of something big is the pitching. How can you bet against a team packing three to five aces plus a legit closer? Throw in the signing of Cespedes and they go into 2016 far more solid than they did in 1974 or 2001.

If anything, the ’73 and ’00 teams had more proven talent, but that also meant the core members didn’t have many really good years left. That’s the difference between those years and 2015. Other than Wright, Granderson and Colon, you’re talking about core members who were and are getting better.

Just from a narrative sense, all three teams gave us great thrill rides. 1973 and the legacy of You Gotta Believe speaks for itself. 2000 is probably undervalued because of who the World Series was lost to, but that was one of the most satisfying regular seasons I can recall, not to mention we were party to a fantastic NLDS and awesome NLCS performance. 2015 had a bit more of the element of surprise when viewed from a preseason standpoint. It was crazy to think the 1973 Mets could win their division in August, but not in March. The 2000 Mets were coming off a playoff appearance and had added a top-notch lefty pitcher. Nobody was picking the 2015 Mets to beat the Nationals in March.

Joe – Terry Collins gets killed a lot by fans and critics. But here he is entering his sixth season at the helm of the Mets fresh off an improbable World Series run. Is it time for fans to embrace him?

Greg – Terry Collins is as subject to first-, second- and third-guessing as any manager in the game, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt on the whole. You can pick apart certain decisions from last year (and I do in the World Series chapter) but you have to admire how he handled his players. Five seasons in and I can’t recall any One Met Said criticism making it into the media. Keeping 25 men happy or at least not grouchy all year long is probably as big a deal as who pitches the seventh on a given night.

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And now some questions from the fan base…

Dark HelMet – In your long history of Mets-fandom, have you ever experienced such a seismic shift of a season than the week around the trade deadline where everything changed so dramatically for the Mets?

Greg – All in all, probably not. I’ve seen Met teams turn on a dime in the standings and I’ve seen Met teams make a flurry of moves, but I’ve never seen it all sync so quickly and so well. In one week, they bring up or in Conforto, Johnson, Uribe, Clippard and Cespedes and as soon as they do, they go off on a tear that completely flips the order of things in their division and sends them rocketing to the playoffs. You can’t ask for a bigger, better turnaround.

Kevin M. – There are a lot of fans that are of the opinion Alderson didn’t expect the team to be in the position they were in around trade deadline time. It’s said by some that if not for the Nats underachieving, Sandy wouldn’t have made the moves he did. So the question is, if we were 1.5 or more games back, instead of 1.5 ahead, do we still acquire help, and make a push, like we did to hold on to the lead, or are we sellers, and preparing for 2016?

Greg – One can never speak with certainty to unknowables. We do know that in July 2015, the Mets were hanging close enough so that the GM saw the merit in making moves, whereas in previous Julys, they were, at best, on the perimeter of maybe having a chance. If the Mets were a little further from first place or a playoff spot when the trading deadline came around last year…who knows? But I kind of doubt Alderson would have been as active. I think he said something to that effect along the way.

BarnRat – Other than the Pennant, what do you judge as the greatest achievement of 2015, and other than not winning the World Series, what do you judge as the greatest disappointment of 2015?

Greg – The best team achievement was psychological. They stopped being “the Mets” as we knew them. You know, the whole #LOLMets thing. It doesn’t exist any longer as an organizing principle of our fandom. In tandem with that, the Mets are no longer the “other” team in their own city. I don’t know that they “own New York,” but I do know that as we speak, the center of baseball gravity around here has shifted to Flushing. It happened so matter-of-factly that it feels less than momentous, but I believe (assuming they keep up the good work) it will mean a great deal, particularly to the generation of fans just coming of age. I’ve always told anybody who’d listen that this stuff is cyclical, and it is. The last cycle lasted 20 years was all, thus it was considered a given that the Mets were always “the little brothers” or whatever. As someone who lived through much better Met times, I knew that wasn’t the case.

Individually, the continued development of deGrom, the emergence of Syndergaard, the hint of Matz and the return of Harvey — none of which was in place a year ago — was collectively enormous. It’s easy to take this kind of pitching for granted now that we’re used to it, but wow…this kind of pitching!

Disappointment? Though it didn’t stop them from getting far, I’m sorry we didn’t get a full year of Travis d’Arnaud. I thought he was on his way to the All-Star Game when he game out of the gate as he did in April. I hope his progress continues. I suppose it’s also a downer that Juan Lagares has gone from key piece to outfield afterthought. He looked very good in the postseason and perhaps he will find his way back to the forefront for 2017 and beyond.

Greggofboken – The push to the pennant seemed to be the result of several factors: the acquisition of Cespedes (as a third choice), the strengthening of the Mets depth at the trade deadline, the return of key injured players, and the Nats’ failures due to injury or under-performance. Which of these, in your eyes was the single biggest determinant in our finish, how do your own conclusions differ from what you believe to be popular sentiment, and if you were to weight them how much of the Mets’ pennant was due to skilled planning vs. circumstances that broke the Mets’ way?

Greg – To win a pennant, almost everything has to go right, and I think that’s what happened. The Mets, even at their offensively lousiest, never sank more than 4½ games behind the Nationals. If Washington had played as hyped, it might very well have been a different story. But they were more human than thought, the Mets were a little better stocked than predicted (particularly once everybody was off the DL) and moves that couldn’t have been foreseen were made. Cespedes’s acquisition was clearly the axis on which 2015 tilted, but he didn’t do it alone.

Gus L. – We kept hearing and seeing how the Royals were relentless. However, it’s hard to believe that pitchers such as Volquez, a player that three teams gave up on and has a history of control problems, Cueto, a pitcher that down the stretch was so fragile and horrid that the Royals wouldn’t pitch him on the road, and a classic journeyman in Chris Young were able to shut down the Mets offense with such success. Did the Mets seem, or were they, psyched out over the grandness of it all?

Greg – I am tempted to say it was simply their year more than it was our year. Given that we led in every World Series game, that might be too handy an explanation, but if they didn’t seem unbeatable, they just seemed a little more — to use a Keithism — on point. They made enough plays that needed to be made and the Mets didn’t. I had a bit of a bad feeling about the long layoff between the NLCS clincher and the World Series opener, but I don’t want to put too much blame there, because I surely enjoyed the Mets sweeping the Cubs. I don’t think the Mets were psyched out. In the end, they just got beat.

It certainly sets up a way more fascinating season-opening series than anybody could have otherwise dreamed up for this year.

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You can purchase your hard cover copy of Amazin’ Again on Amazon for less than $15 bucks! I’ve already got mine and added it to my Mets book collection!

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Where Are They Now? Catching Up With Ron Swoboda http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/where-are-they-now-catching-up-with-ron-swoboda.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/where-are-they-now-catching-up-with-ron-swoboda.html/#comments Wed, 16 Mar 2016 16:46:24 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=207463 ron swoboda  mets

Baseball players tend to disappear after retirement. Without the spotlight of national media, or admiration of thousands of fans, they fade back into mainstream society. They leave only memories, and their absence from the game makes it easy to forget that these guys we watched on TV are still real people. My mission is to allow fans to remember these forgotten players by seeking them out and talking to them in our quest to answer our burning question, “Where are they now?”

Today I chatted with former Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda about his playing days, The Catch, what he’s doing now, and his take on the Mets today.

Noah: What was your favorite memory from your time with the Mets?

Ron: I played in one World Series, and that was 1969. I’m in the midst of writing my memoir right now and I’m currently plowing through the segment of the 1969 World Series and weaving through all the amazing things that happened to us as a baseball team along with the incredible cultural things that were happening back then. It was an amazing time.

Noah: So you played on the Mets throughout the ups and downs of the 1960′s and the early 1970′s. How did the atmosphere around the team change before or during that 1969 season?

Ron: Well when you see your pitching developing like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Gary Gentry, and Tug McGraw -you know, good young arms- that look like people that can go out there and compete, you start feeling like the team is moving in the right direction. These things don’t happen overnight, and when you’re playing 162 games in a season, there’s such an incredible ebb and flow from week to week. we had never won anything, and then all of the sudden 1969 starts happening. We were still working out who we were as a baseball team, and that happened gradually. Then all of the sudden it came (together) in a big run during the last month of the season.

Noah: During your time with the Mets, you played alongside some legendary players and played under some legendary coaches. Can you pinpoint any one of them that shaped you as a player or as an individual?

Ron: I’m probably the wrong guy to be asking about who’s shaping you, I struggled a little with authority. (laughs) But when you play around people who knew how to conduct themselves, Guys like Gil Hodges, obviously. When you saw how he handled the ballgame as a manager, and you realized that you may disagree with what he’s doing, you might want to be out there playing and he’s got you on the bench but he had a pretty good idea of what he was doing. It doesn’t make it any easier to sit on the bench -which I did- but you knew that the pieces were in place (to win) and Gil knew that he had some buttons to push. I don’t know if a manager can make you something that you’re not, but when you play at the big league level, some coaches understand the game better than you do, and they’ll suggest some things along the way to make you a better player.

Noah: Near the end of the 1969 season, you played against Steve Carlton and the Cardinals. Carlton struck out 19 Mets but you hit two home runs to give the Mets the win. With the rest of the team struggling, how did you approach those at bats.

Ron: Well I was struggling too (laughs). Carlton had amazing stuff, and I never hit him very well in my career. I can’t explain how it happened except that it was one of those days where I actually wasn’t feeling very comfortable at the plate. St Louis was one of the few stadiums that had a batting cage behind the left field wall and I went out there and asked Ralph Kiner -who was one of the broadcasters for the Mets- if he could feed me some balls and look at me. “See if you can see anything (wrong), I’m lost.” So he fed me some balls and watched me swing, suggested a couple of things and before long, he said, “Boom! That looks pretty good!” He worked with me and somehow I got in a good frame of mind and faced Carlton that night. He was on his way to striking out 19 batters and I hit these two bombs off of him. (Laughs) I have to mention that he also struck me out twice and had two strikes on me each time I hit a home run.

Noah: During your time with the Mets, you weren’t really known for your fielding ability, even earning the nickname Rocky from New York media. However, you then made arguably the greatest catch in Mets postseason history in 1969. How did you work to become a better outfielder, despite being doubted by so many people?

Ron: Well I worked with Eddie Yost (the third base coach) and he hit me thousands of fungoes. Yeah I still made mistakes in the outfield because in the big leagues you play in these big tall stadiums where it’s hard to pick up the ball. I struggled with that in the minors, I was unsure of myself, nd the big leagues are the wrong place for self doubt. Still, I worked at it, and ultimately I got better. Was I as good as the catch I made in game four of the 1969 World series? Probably not. But I definitely was a better outfielder than a lot of people thought.

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Noah: Speaking of that catch, take me through that play, what exactly was going through your mind when Brooks Robinson hit that ball?

Ron: I had worked hard on getting good jumps on the ball and Brooks hit a line drive to my right that I broke hard for. Probably about 97 percent of the way there, I wasn’t too sure if I was going to catch up with it. But once you commit to a dive, you have to go for it completely, and that’s what I did. I made the catch on the back hand and caught the ball in the web. When it hit the web of my glove, I knew I had it. At the time, all I was thinking about was baseball, just reacting to the play.

Noah: Do you remember anyone in particular who had a memorable reaction to the catch?

Ron: There was this sports guy in Baltimore who said, “the only way Swoboda could make a living with his glove is to cook it and eat it.” I thought that was pretty funny, but my mom didn’t (laughs). But when somebody who is not known for their glove like me makes a play like that, they’re going to get a little attention. Especially in a pivotal game of the World Series.

Noah: Just switching gears now, what have you done since moving on from professional baseball and where are you now?

Ron: I’m actually speaking to you from New Orleans, and I’ve been here since 1981. When I got off the diamond, I ended up making a connection with WCBS in New York where I did local television sports for 20 years. It was a really fortunate thing. I was always looking for ways to express myself and my opinions, and people in New York knew me. So in many ways, it was a perfect match. When that was over, I started doing some color broadcasting for the triple A team in New Orleans, the Zephyrs, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I really love it, it’s not work. It’s given me a chance to stay close to the game and even learn a thing or two more about it.

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Noah: You’ve been in and around TV a lot, but you didn’t mention that you appeared in an episode of the sitcom **Everybody Loves Raymond** with some of your 1969 teammates. What was that experience like?

Ron: They were wonderful. That was a long time ago but it’s still very fresh in my mind. Ray Romano and that whole cast were so generous with us. Obviously, they wanted us to be as natural as we could. I think we did a pretty good job. We were lucky, it was a hit show and it played everywhere and we still get residuals for it (laughs). It’s crazy, but it’s still significant for me because I got to see the inside of a sitcom and I got to meet a bunch of really fabulous people.

Noah: Interesting take. So what do you think of the Mets today, and how far do you see them going this season?

Ron: The Mets are relevant, and the sky’s the limit for them. That team with the addition of Yoenis Cespedes last year along with that returning young pitching is going to be a much better team out of the gate. This offseason, they got a great deal for Cespedes and I think that Neil Walker can replace Daniel Murphy at second base. Overall, I really like what the team has done. Also, that experience of making it all the way to the World Series and getting beat by a better team will make them understand that they still have some more things to work on. It’ll put some purpose in their spring training as well. I expect them to be relevant and I don’t see any reason why they can’t get back in the playoffs in 2016.

Noah: You mentioned that talented young pitching staff, now who on it would you least like to face?

Ron: There’s a whole bunch of them. Harvey is somebody who you don’t want to see, Wheeler’s going to be back at some point this year. Familia coming out of the bullpen, he’s got nasty stuff. The toughest thing for (the group) is going to be getting to the closer. With Thor and Matz, you have a starting rotation that is as good as anybody’s in the game.

Noah: And lastly, if you could give any message to Mets fans today, what would it be?

Ron: Try to expect good things from the team. I got up to (Citi Field) for a couple of series last year. Including when they got Cespedes and swept the Nationals. I saw how good this team really is. (Last year) the Nationals looked beatable, the Mets looked formidable and Mets fans came out of the woodwork. All of the sudden, Citi Field came alive. There’s always been a lot of Mets fans, all the team has to do is show them something to make them come out. I think the team put players on the field that fans could get excited about and I think that Mets fans have every reason to expect something on the same order as last year.

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Where Are They Now? Catching Up With Jon Matlack http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/where-are-they-now-catching-up-with-jon-matlack.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/where-are-they-now-catching-up-with-jon-matlack.html/#comments Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:00:46 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=207054 jon matlack

Baseball players tend to disappear after retirement. Without the spotlight of national media, or admiration of thousands of fans, they fade back into mainstream society. They leave only memories, and their absence from the game makes it easy to forget that these guys we watched on TV are still real people. My mission is to make fans remember these forgotten players by seeking them out and talking to them in our quest to answer our burning question, “Where are they now?”

Today I chatted with former Mets pitcher Jon Matlack about his fine career, what it was like pitching alongside Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, what he’s doing now, and his thoughts about the Mets’ young aces today.

Here’s the podcast, and as always, I appreciate your comments.

Noah: So you pitched for the Mets for seven years, made a World Series and several All-Star appearances. Looking back on it all, what was your finest moment while on the team?

Jon: Oh boy, I don’t know how you pick one, there were several that were qualified to be in that realm. I guess I would say game two of the championship series against Cincinnati would probably be a highlight.

Noah: Speaking of that game, you shutout the Big Red Machine on two hits. You were a young pitcher then who had been roughed up by them twice earlier in the season. Were you at all nervous going into that game?

Jon: Probably more like scared to death. I had charted Seaver’s game the day before where we were beaten 2-1 on two solo home runs, one by (Johnny) Bench, one by (Pete) Rose. Tommy struck out 14 or 15 guys and just did a phenomenal job. And I’m looking at that chart thinking “what in the world have I got to do to beat these guys?”

Noah: Who were you most scared to face?

Jon: Well the irony was the typical fastball hitters weren’t the guys that I was most afraid of. It was probably Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez that I was a little leery of because of their ability to hit the breaking ball, especially the breaking ball that wasn’t a really good one.

Noah: And how did you maintain your composure?

Jon: I don’t know. I was just trying to do the best I could do to help us win a ball game. You get locked in on what you’re trying to do, stay ahead of the hitters and throw a lot of strikes. Keep the first guy off base. You get so involved with the job at hand that you don’t necessarily think about pressure and what else is going on around you.

Noah: As I mentioned earlier, you played on the Mets for seven years. Played alongside some great guys. Played under some really legendary managers. Can you pinpoint any one of them that shaped you as a player or as an individual?

Jon: Well I think Gil)Hodges, not because I played for such a long time under him as much as the type of individual he was and the atmosphere that he created in the clubhouse and in the dugout. Because I really didn’t spend much time there, I made the club full time in the spring that he died. And then beyond that, Yogi was most influential for completely different reasons. He was the type of manager that just said “here’s the bats and balls boys, go do your thing and let’s win some ball games.”

Noah: What was the craziest thing he ever said to you?

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Jon: I don’t know if there was anything particularly crazy, but I do remember having a difficult time understanding him when he came to the mound. During games for mound visits, and I finally asked Seaver, “How do you handle him?” And he said it’s really easy. “Whenever he’s done talking, if he doesn’t put his hand out, you say okay and he’ll go back to the dugout. If he puts his hand out, you put the ball in it and you go back to the dugout.” That’s about as basic as it gets. (laughs) It was pretty easy.

Noah: In 1973, you struck out 205 batters, which was a Mets record for a left-hander that stood for 35 years. How did you go about attacking hitters and finishing them off?

Jon: I don’t know if there was anything different from one year to the next. Except when I had my contract negotiation the previous year, one of the things the club pointed out to me was that they felt I didn’t strike out enough guys. So it became an emphasis for me to try and do that more so whenever I was in a situation where the strikeout was possible, I tried to pay more attention to how to get it. (My approach to) each hitter would have been different, how they approached an at bat would have given me some information as to what weapon to use best against them.

Noah: So you had a successful career overall, a career ERA of 3.18, 318 quality starts, however, you were only one game over .500 for your career record. Do you regret not having more opportunities to win, considering how well you pitched?

Jon: Well I think that the opportunities were there, I just would have had to have been better. In those circumstances, it’s just the way that the chips fell. My job, as I looked at it, was to keep our club in the game for as long as I was in the ballgame. That to me was (whether we were) ahead, tied, possibly one or two down, and that was me doing my job. I felt that I did that for the largest percentage of the time. So the win loss thing wasn’t something that I was really centered on as much as I wanted us to have a chance to win every time I took the field.

Noah: Switching gears now, what have you done since moving on from professional baseball, and as the title of the series says, where are you now?

Jon: Well now I am in River Ranch, Florida in a fifth wheel trailer, staying out of the snow of upstate New York where I live.

Noah: I totally sympathize with that up here in Syracuse.

Jon: (Laughs) As far as what I’ve done, when I stopped playing, I was in commercial real estate and raising horses for four or five years. I decided I wanted to get back into coaching and in 1988 started back as a stationary coach for the Padres. After a couple years with them, I went to the White Sox for a couple years, all in the minor leagues. Then back to the Padres, in 1996 I was the Tigers’ major league pitching coach. I didn’t make it the whole year, that September I got fired, but they hired me to be the minor league pitching coordinator and I did that for 16 years. Again, the ax fell, I went to Houston and did the same job for one more year, and since then, I’ve been out. From 2012 on, I have been a retired character.

Noah: Now the 2016 Mets were very similar to the 1973 Mets, just in the way that they’re built around strong young pitching. So do you see any similarities between the Mets young aces today and your rotation mates of Seaver and Koosman in 1973?

Jon: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of talent similarities, but the way the game is played is different. When you look at the six potential starters they have -Wheeler wasn’t in there because of injury- but you got deGrom, Harvey, Matz, and Syndergaard. Wheeler’s going to be back this year as far as I know and Colon’s still in the mix as a spot starter, a double header guy, or however they choose to use him. That’s a pretty strong rotation. The thing that stood out to me watching the series was the fact that it seemed like the staff in general tried to outstuff the opposition as opposed to pitch to what they saw and exploit a weakness. I don’t think they did nearly as well as they could have had they maybe used some of the aggressiveness of the Kansas City hitters against them.

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Noah: So how are these guys today different from you, Seaver, and Koosman?

Jon: In our day, we were given information about the opposition and then told “go use it how you want to and keep us in the ballgame, give us a chance to win.” And that was pretty much what an advance scouting report was all about. In today’s game -and I can’t say that the Mets do this exactly, but a lot of clubs do- they’re pretty much given a chart or a plan to follow. “This is how you pitch this guy, do not throw this guy a first pitch fastball…” They’ve got it down to if it’s 2:15 on a Tuesday afternoon and the sun is shining, you throw a breaking ball to so and so, the odds are really good at getting a ground ball. The game has become more computerized -fantasy baseball on the field- if you will, and I think it takes a lot out of the personality and the player’s ability to trust their gut out of it.

Noah: It’s been well documented today that the Mets pitchers are very competitive with each other. Did you have that same dynamic with Seaver and Koosman?

Jon: Absolutely. We had contests of various types going on all year long. It usually had to do with somebody buying dinner for the other two. Ironically, it all sort of went around. Koosy would win once in a while, Tommy once in a while, and me once in a while.

Noah: And specifically, what were those competitions?

Jon: Some of them had to do with who would be the first guy to not give the team a chance to win or put us in a spot where we would lose. Which guy would have the best batting average for the month, who had more base hits or an extra base hit. Something like that, it was all competitive driven.

Noah: So is there any one Mets pitcher today that you see some of yourself in?

Jon: There’s been a lot of comparisons drawn between me and Steven Matz. Whether or not they really hold to be true, I can’t tell you. From looking at him, he seems to have similar stuff, but what makes the difference to me is how you use that stuff, your ability to deal with adversity, your ability to feel the right decision at the right time, and a fearless approach to whatever adversary you may be facing. And I can’t tell you without having a sit down or being closer to him, whether he possesses any of that stuff.

Noah: Now if you could give any message to Mets fans, what would it be?

Jon: Oh man… Thanks for a great time when I was there. Mets fans are known to be tough, but I think if you give them an honest effort and give them the time of day -which I tried to most of the time- they’ll treat you real fairly, and that’s the way I felt.

Noah: And lastly, you gave up Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit. Can you just take me through that at-bat? And at the time were you really aware of the gravity of the situation?

Jon: I had no knowledge whatsoever that it was his 3,000th hit. I was just a young rookie trying to win another ball game, and having a tough day. We were behind, I think I ended up losing the game five to nothing. I was making a pitch that I was upset about, it was a breaking ball and I was trying to get it to the outside corner. When it left my hand, I was pretty certain it was going to be a ball so I was upset from that point, that dammit, that was a ball that was supposed to be a strike. He managed to keep his hands back, which he generally did very well, took that great big stride he was known for, and reached out across the plate and laced it into left center field for a double. I’m like damn, that’s pretty good hitting. He managed to hit a ball that’s not even a strike. But now the place erupts, there were not a whole lot of people there, but it gets very loud and I’m thinking it’s a double what’s the deal? They were giving him the ball at second base and at that point I noticed the scoreboard flashing 3000. That’s the first inclination that I had that it was a momentous occasion for Clemente.

Noah: Thanks so much for your time Jon.  Really appreciate it.

Jon:  No problem.  Have a good one.

Noah:  That does it for us on Where Are They Now, I’m Noah Wolfe.  Check back in a few days to hear what a member of the Miracle Mets had to say about that amazin’ year and his life today.

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MMO Exclusive: Mets Top ’15 Draft Pick Desmond Lindsay http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-meet-mets-top-15-draft-pick-desmond-lindsay.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-meet-mets-top-15-draft-pick-desmond-lindsay.html/#comments Thu, 03 Mar 2016 14:02:55 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=207171 desmond lindsay

The Mets selected Desmond Lindsay with their first draft choice (2nd round) of the 2015 draft from the Out-of-Door Academy in Sarasota Florida. The 19-year old right-handed hitter played first and third base in High School but the Mets had every intention of putting him in the outfield when they drafted him.

Desmond ranked as high as #71 (Keith Law) on pre-draft prospect boards and was #102 according to Baseball America’s Top 500, just missing the Top 100. Mets director of scouting Tommy Tanous called him “an offensive machine” while former VP of scouting and player development Paul DePodesta said “I think he has as much upside as any player we’ve taken in the second round since we’ve been here”.

Now a center fielder, Lindsay, made his pro debut with the GCL Mets in the Gulf Coast League hitting .300/.400/.464 in 21 games before getting a well deserved promotion to the Brooklyn Cyclones. He struggled for the first time in pro ball with just a .574 OPS in 53 plate appearances in the New York-Penn League but was just 18 during the season and was over three years younger than the league average age.

Lindsay was kind enough to answer some questions for our readers. Please enjoy…

MMN – When did the Mets start showing serious interest in you and what was it like to be drafted in the by them?

Desmond – They started showing serious interest in me during the start of my final High School season. They were one of the teams who were around the most often. It was just a blessing to be able to get such a opportunity to go play baseball at the next level. I was very excited.

MMN – Did you have any thoughts of not signing with the Mets, instead honoring your commitment to North Carolina?

Desmond – I had pretty much agreed with the Mets that if they drafted me in the round they did, I would sign with them.

MMN – What was the transition like going from an infielder to an outfielder?

Desmond – It was very tough because I was competing against kids who mostly had been playing the same position for their entire baseball careers.

MMN – Who worked with you in the Met organization to make you better defensively?

Desmond – Benny Distefano, who is the outfield coordinator, worked with me the most and really helped speed up my learning process last season.

MMN – What was the biggest challenge for you in your first taste of pro ball?

Desmond – I would have to say learning to play the outfield, just because I was at such a disadvantage experience wise from everyone else.

MMN – What have you been doing this offseason to prepare yourself for the 2016 season?

Desmond – I’ve been pretty much working out every day following the strength program they gave us for the offseason. I was also in Port St. Lucie for a month training with Mike Barwis at the spring training facilities.

MMN – What was a typical day like at the Barwis camp?

Desmond – We would workout from 1 p.m. to about 3:30 p.m. every day during the week. Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays were lifting days. Tuesday and Thursdays were speed and agility where we would work on out running form and flexibility.

MMN – What would you say your strengths and weaknesses are as a player right now?

Desmond – I would say my biggest strength is definitely my offense and being able to hit the ball the other way. My weakness has to still be my outfield defense right now. (Laughs)

MMN – How would you describe your approach at the plate? Do the Mets staff talk about a certain organizational philosophy?

Desmond – The biggest thing they tell us is to not try to do to much. They really work on making us identify early and knowing exactly what to do with them. We always work on driving the ball to the opposite field and knowing our strike zone.

MMN – Your grandmother is a Mets fan, did you get a chance to follow the Mets playoff run with her?

Desmond – She loves the Mets and I grew up watching the Mets games at her house all the time. We talked almost everyday during their playoff run and were both very excited to see them in such a big stage.

MMN – What are your expectations and goals for yourself in the 2016 season?

Desmond – My biggest goal for next season is to keep progressing in a positive direction regarding my outfield play. Also, I would really like to be in Columbia with the Fireflies by the end of the season.

MMN – Thanks for answering some questions and good luck this season!

During the offseason, Desmond has also been involved in helping raise money for the Taylor Emmons Scholarship Fund which he was the first ever recipient of.

Definitely think there is a a good chance that Desmond finishes the year with the Columbia Fireflies and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him start the season with the Mets new Low-A affiliate. We are currently in the middle of unleashing our Top 80 Prospects and you can be assured Desmond will be in the Top 10.

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MMO Exclusive: Catching Up With Cliff Floyd http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-where-are-they-now-catching-up-with-cliff-floyd.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-exclusive-where-are-they-now-catching-up-with-cliff-floyd.html/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2016 17:23:56 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=207052 cliff floyd mets

Where Are They Now? Cliff Floyd

Baseball players tend to disappear after retirement. Without the spotlight of national media, or admiration of thousands of fans, they fade back into mainstream society. They leave only memories, and their absence from the game makes it easy to forget that these guys we watched on TV are still real people. My mission is to make fans remember these forgotten players by having them talk to us and answer our burning question, “Where are they now?”

Today I chatted with former Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd to hear his take on the 2006 playoffs, what he’s doing now, and his thoughts on the current Mets team.

I am also kicking off a podcast to accompany the transcribed interview that you can listen to here, let me know what you think!

Noah: So you played on the Mets for the greater part of four seasons, what was your proudest moment while on the team?

Cliff: Well it goes back to ’06 and the postseason and you know we had, in my mind, the team that was destined to win the World Series and unfortunately it didn’t happen. But that was one of my proudest moments; being able to see the fans go crazy. You know, to see Shea Stadium swaying back and forth. You couldn’t go through a day without thinking about it. I was so stuck on getting that team to the World Series and winning it for those fans in Queens. And it didn’t happen, that actually still haunts me to this day.

Noah: The Mets were really mediocre before that 2006 season. What aside from the acquisitions of Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado really took that team to the next level?

Cliff: For me, it was more that we understood what accountability was. I think that when you look at the team we had, it was a bunch of veterans that just played the way we were supposed to play (the game). When you have that, I don’t care who the manageer is, you just flow together, and we had a good bunch. We really did. Everybody knew exactly what their roles were, and it helped so much mentally, just to be able to come to the park knowing that “even if I might not get it done today, we are going to get the win regardless.” Every once in a while we took the loss, and we also knew how to bounce back from those as well.

Noah: So was there any one player that shaped you as a player or as an individual during your time with the team?

Cliff: Man, I had so many different ones, Jerry Manuel was there, Rick Downs… But I could relate to Jerry because he was with me back in my Montreal days. He had managerial experience, coaching experience; he knew how to “keep the mind right” while allowing you to go through those trials and tribulations of a season. Especially in New York City too, playing on that stage while trying to figure out how to be successful and also deal with the fans and deal with the media, things like that. But on the field, he was always watching everything, critiquing my swing and things like that in addition to helping me just stay mentally focused. So I would say probably Jerry Manuel.

Noah: Just going back to the 2006 NLCS, Endy Chavez played left field for you when you were injured. And he really wrote his name into Mets lore with that tremendous catch to rob Scott Rolen of a home run. Now tell me honestly Cliff, if you were playing, do you make that catch?

Cliff: (Laughs) Nah man, I’m not making that one! You know, I was dealing with that Achilles injury, and in my mind, I woke up that morning around 6:00 and went to the doctor and got a shot in my calf muscle. I thought that it was gonna work itself down to the point where I could play. That’s what made me feel like we were going to the World Series. Because Endy Chavez made that catch, I knew I couldn’t have made that catch, that’s a home run for anybody in most situations. Your left fielder’s not catching that ball because most times your most versatile player’s usually in center. And in addition, with me being hurt, I definitely wasn’t gonna make that catch. Endy Chavez- athletic as he is -, was there in the right place at the right time.

Noah: You mentioned that you were injured during the series, but you were still called upon to pinch hit in the ninth inning of that game against Adam Wainwright who was really dealing. Looking back on it – I know you struck out in your at-bat against him – How would you have approached that at-bat differently?

Cliff: I think I would’ve just cut down a little bit on my swing. Knowing that I felt good, and I could hear the fans- and I never really heard them- when you focus and you’re in the moment, you never really hear them, but on deck I could hear the fans going “take us to the promised land, c’mon Cliffy, you can do this.” Everybody stood up when I walked to the dish to take that at bat. I probably wouldn’t have swung as hard as I was swinging. He threw me two fastballs, literally right down the middle. When you miss your pitches in this game, you’re succeptible to getting thrown the out pitch, and for Wainwright, the out pitch was that curveball. The rest was history.

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Noah: Yeah, Mets fans definitely know that. So, moving to the next part of the interview, what have you done since moving on from professional baseball, and as the title of this series says, Where are you now?

Cliff: Where am I now?  I guess I’m all over the place.  I’m fortunate enough to be able to stay in the game.  MLB Network has been tremendous, allowing me to give my expertise and knowledge on what I’ve learned playing this game, give our viewers an opportunity to get a different perspective on the game.  It’s been great, the fans have been great.  Also being able to do MLB radio on Sirius XM has been awesome.  I do a show from 2:00 to 5:00 with Casey Stern, three days a week.  It’s great, it keeps me going, keeps me in the moment as well, it keeps me updated on all these new players.  Once you leave the game, the players that you played with- a few of them are still left- but most times, the game does evolve, it comes full circle, and you get new players.  So, I’ve had to adjust to that, but I’ve invented a ball cap liner to go underneath the hats of young baseball players to protect them and keep safety first.  We just launched that last month.

So, I’m doing a lot of this and a lot of that, family is first and foremost important. I’ve got my son who’s playing baseball now, my two daughters and my wife. We’re down here in south Florida. I’m really busy, but really thankful that I had the opportunity to live that first part of my life (as a player) and now have a chance to still stay in the game and stay relevent. When people say “hey aren’t you on TV?”, I’m like “yeah.” So people do know that I’m still doing my thing.

Noah: Is that recognition something that made you choose to become an analyst after your playing career?

Cliff: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve really thought about that at a particular time. If it falls in your lap, it just happens that way. You don’t really think that you can just go on TV, have this earpiece in your ear and have your producer talking to you, and you have the chance to speak your mind. My mind never worked like that. I was just keen on getting that fastball and doing something with it, that’s what I did for 18 years. So you don’t think that the opportunity is ever going to present itself, and when it does, you have to jump all over it or you’re gonna miss the boat. So you jump in, you don’t know if you’re any good. You ask questions, but you have to be careful when you ask people things like “Have you watched me? Am I good?” Because of course they’re gonna say “yeah keep doing your thing” Nobody will say you sound like crap, so you have to be careful, and you have to do your homework and do all the other things you need to do to be successful.

Noah: So you’re still around the game a lot, do you ever miss playing?

Cliff: Oh yeah. I miss playing 100 percent. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I missed my check more than I miss playing, but I think they go hand in hand. And those days of being around your boys in the locker room, getting to the stadium at 2:00 and getting some work in, that’s what I miss more. The laughing and the camraderie of being in the locker room, being on the team plane, and doing all the things you want to do, those are the things that I’ll always miss; and I can never get that back. For the most part, being able to go to the (MLB) network gives me that chance to be around my boys. When I got there, I swear, it was like being back in the dugout or the clubhouse, that’s how much fun we have.

Noah: As an analyst, you know I have to ask you this question. What do you see in this current Mets team, and how far do you see them going this year?

Cliff: Well I think that Sandy Alderson did a great job this offseason, I think when you look at what they had to upgrade – I don’t think it was much – bringing back Cespedes was huge, we saw enough last year in the second half of the season that made this a mandatory type of signing, the offense was absolutely horrific in the first half.

Getting some guys healthy, like Travis d’Arnaud – who’s coming to camp healthy this year – and David Wright. Sandy’s plan on how to play him makes a lot of sense, limiting him to about 130 games or whatever it may be depending on how strong he comes out of camp.

And then adding a lefty down in the bullpen for (Jeurys) Familia in Antonio Bastardo, he had a great year last year. They needed a lefty to come in and get some tough outs. All around, I think they did a great job. I hope Sandy recovers and gets back to 100 percent health wise, he did what he needed to do to make sure this team is ready to win the NL East.

Then fixing up the middle defense, you have guys like Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera who solidify the defense and allow the pitchers to relax and let guys put the ball in play. That’s a key for this young staff. Allowing them to grow, but also knowing that you can put them in situations where they can throw the ball over the plate and have guys make the play behind them.

Noah: You mentioned David Wright earlier, who you played with when he was a rookie. Now, he’s really the leader of this Mets team. How has he matured as a leader both on and off the field?

Cliff: I think from a leadership standpoint, everything that comes out of his mouth, he thinks about it, he knows exactly how to make sure he keeps the organization first and foremost. When you look at the team, he makes sure everything goes (smoothly). He has the right manager in Terry Collins to allow him to feel comfortable to say whatever he wants to say. It’s tough on him media-wise in New York City.

The numbers haven’t been there, but I think he’s handled it very well. I think when you look at how tough he is, that in itself is maturity part for me because as I mentioned earlier to you, accountability goes so far in this game and he’s been accountable for everything he’s done on the field and when you do that, you let your actions on the field do the talking for you as opposed to talking so much about what you want to do and just go out and play. He’s done a good job of that.

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Noah: The next top Mets prospect Michael Conforto is currently making the jump from being a successful minor leaguer to a successful big league player. You were really in the same position, you came up as a top prospect, how did you make that transition, and what advice would you offer to Michael today?

Cliff: Yeah you make that jump because you do what you need to do on the field. And your successful when you believe in your abilities. I think that’s the key for anybody. At the big league level, when you’re successful, and you believe in your talent, it just oozes out. I think Michael understands that right now, I think he sees the light. I think he knows the bright lights and the big city, he has to bottle that up and take it with him everywhere he goes. And know that no matter what happens, the opportunity he has here is his to keep.

All the fans want him, nobody wants to see him go back to Triple A. I think that as we watch him grow now, my advice to him is always find time for yourself, and when you get to the park, there are going to be times where people are going to pull you here and there, but stay in your lane. Don’t try to do too much, and if you think you’re not gonna do well, then take that number 30 off, because that’s a good number to have. (Just joking)

Noah: Definitely, yeah.

Cliff: He understands what to think. I was able to talk to him last year a bit; he understands that responsibility lies in his ability to do his job. Like anybody else, and I’ve always said this, if you don’t do it, somebody else will. The game won’t wait for you. He’s not the first (top prospect) and he won’t be the last. That’s just how cutthroat this game is, it’s business. So with the talent that he has, he has to just go out there and play and let (his talent) do the work for him.

Noah: So if you could give Mets fans any message today, what would it be?

Cliff: Buy season tickets for five years and see what happens after that. (Laughs) These guys that they have on the mound are going to make or break this team. And I don’t know what’s going to happen when it’s free agent time, and we’ve heard rumblings of the Mets signing them. I just think that now is when you reap the benefits of having that type of team. Just enjoy every minute. You know a winning opportunity in any sport is very small. When you have the pitching staff that the Mets have right now, you enjoy every minute of it because when it’s gone and you’re rebuilding, then you go through that time of where you’re complaining and you dislike all the other teams out there. But when you have this type of (winning) team, and these types of pitchers, you get season tickets and you show your love for the team.

Noah: So now my last question is about Tom Glavine. Before coming to the Mets, you absolutely raked against him, batting .400 in 39 at-bats. He then joined you on the team in 2003. So I guess the saying is “if you can’t beat them, join them”, was this just Glavine giving up?

Cliff: (Laughs) I don’t know man. Still to this day, when I tell people I used to rake him, you don’t know who you’re going to hit and see well. I can’t tell you one thing I picked up off of him that made me so successful, I really can’t tell you. You just don’t know. He put balls where my bat could get to them, and whatever he threw, I hit. He threw a lot of strikes, my mindset was go out there and swing at everything he threw, and we’ll see what happens after that. I took that approach every once in a while, I should have took it more in my career. I didn’t because I didn’t really think that pitchers were reliable enough to do that. But it allowed me to go to bat and have a different mindset against guys who threw strikes, and Glavine was one of them. I had a ton of success, and I don’t take for granted one minute of my at bats against him because because you could go out there and go 0 for 4 against him too. I appreciated and enjoyed it, but listening to him talk on the bench, you could see why he was so successful. He believed that his 85 mile per hour fastball was just as good as anyone’s 97 or 98.

Noah: Thanks so much for your time Cliff, I really appreciate it.

* * * * * * * * * * *

That does it for us here today, check back in a few days to hear what a star pitcher from the 1973 team had to say about his time with the Mets.

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MMO Exclusive: Meet Shortstop Prospect Luis Guillorme http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/mmo-exclusive-meet-shortstop-prospect-luis-guillorme.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/mmo-exclusive-meet-shortstop-prospect-luis-guillorme.html/#comments Tue, 23 Feb 2016 17:00:57 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=206700 (Photo by MiLB.com)

(Photo by MiLB.com)

Earlier this offseason I was able to talk to New York Mets shortstop prospect Luis Guillorme who has a fantastic season for the Savannah Sand Gnats in their final year of being affiliated with the Mets. In 122 games this year he hit .318/.354/.391 while scoring 67 runs, knocking in 55 and stealing 18 bases. He was very good in the clutch this year slashing .353/.416/.383 in 62 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

Before this season Luis was known specifically for his defensive prowess as he was called the human highlight reel by some scouts. Our crew at MetsMinors.net recently ranked Luis as our #3 Mets shortstop prospect at what has become a very deep position in the minors.

Next month, Guillorme will be playing for Team Spain in the World Baseball Classic qualifier from March 17-20.

Mike: First off want to congratulate you on being named the South Atlantic League Most Valuable Player. How surprised were you when you found out you won? How did you find out?

LuisI was excited but I was really surprised,mostly because I knew there was at least three other guys in that locker that deserved it too. We were all in the locker room and Leger told us who made the post season all star and then told me I won the MVP in front of the whole team so that was pretty cool.

Mike: You also received another great honor by winning the Sterling Award, was that the first time you have been to Citi Field? What was the experience like for you?

LuisThat was my first time there and it was an amazing experience. Just walking around the stadium and then being in it, taking bp  and then hanging out with the big guys was awesome.

Mike: Who from the Big league team did you get to talk to?

Luis: I’ve always gotten along with Ruben TejadaWilmer FloresDilson Herrera and Juan Lagares and this time I got to talk to Bartolo Colon, who is a great guy. Also, I’ve been helping out with the pre-draft work outs in St. Lucie for the past 3 years and Daniel Murphy is always there too so we always end up talking a little.

Mike: What did you do (if anything) differently at the plate this year to have a great season with the bat?

Luis: One of the things that helped me was having a more consistent swing. Besides that I was just thinking how that pitcher or that team was trying to work me or how I approached my at bats last time I played them.

Mike: Do you think that over time you will develop more power? Is that something you even worry about?

Luis: I don’t worry about that too much because I know that that isn’t my game. All I have to do is find the gaps and find a way to get in scoring position whether is hitting a double or having to steal a base.

Mike: What do you think you need to improve on to take the next step towards becoming a Major Leaguer?

Luis: I think just becoming even more consistent with my whole game. I think the big difference between a big leaguer and a minor leaguer is consistency.

Mike: You are known for your sparkling defense and some prospect gurus think you won’t hit enough to make the Big Leagues. Do you pay attention to that type of stuff or just block out?

Luis: I always heard comments like that even since I was in high school and I always use them as motivation, I like proving people wrong.

Mike: What was the experience like to be a part of that historic winning streak, the last games at Grayson Stadium and getting playoff experience?

Luis: The streak was really fun and made so much easier to just go out there and play. That last game there didn’t end the way we wanted too but playing there the whole season was an amazing experience,the fans there were great people. I’ve been on winning teams my whole life so I don’t treat playoff any different than a regular season game but I still get that rush that helps perform better.

Mike: Can you tell me a few of your teammates that really stood out and impressed you this year?

Luis: To be honest with you the whole team impressed me. Everybody did something special to help the team this year and if I got into detail of everybody I would never finish.

Mike: That is great to hear, tell me a little bit about your manager Jose Leger? What did you learn from him?

Luis: I played for Leger these past 2 years and out of everything he’s taught me one of the things that hit me the most was to never show emotions. You can’t show the other team,your team or the umpires that there is something wrong or that you’re mad because that’s gonna end up hurting you.

Mike: How did you learn to become such a great defensive shortstop?

Luis: That’s the one thing I always work on even though it was natural for me and when I signed our fielding coordinator Kevin Morgan helped make it even better by helping me slow it down and making everything consistent.

Mike: When you were growing up did you have a favorite team or player?

Luis: The Cleveland Indians and that was because my favorite player was Omar Vizquel.

Mike: Thanks for answering all my questions. Good Luck next year and hope to see playing in New York someday!

Be sure to check out MetsMinors.net, your #1 source for Mets prospect news!

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