If their first appearance out of the gates is an indicator, the 2014 Grapefruit Circuit could be a lot of fun for New York Met fans. Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom whet the appetites of the ‘Flushing Faithful’ with scintillating, tantalizing pitching performances, both retiring the minimum six batters in two innings of work, and both spotting their pitches with laser-like efficiency. The performances of Montero and deGrom raise the anticipation in seeing Jenrry Mejia, Zack Wheeler, Jack Leathersich, any and all young Met power arms.
In addition, many Met fans got a first glimpse of the combustible energy Cesar Puello brings to the field, the rare combination of speed and power, and the inevitable highs and lows he brings to the park each day. Add Travis d’Arnaud, Juan Lagares and the new Met outfielders, and it’s pick your story line for Met fans.
Perhaps the most fascinating story line of them all is the first base position battle between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. Davis and Duda came out firing in the opener stoking up interest in a competition sure to hold the attention of Met fans this spring. Duda followed that up with a mammoth home run in Saturday’s contest.
The reaction of the Port St. Lucie Grapefruit League fans seemed to indicate they are already taking sides in the ‘reality show like‘ first base competition. There was a buzz in the Stadium at Tradition Field when Ike Davis stepped to the plate, the crowd clearly signaling to the Met first baseman they have not given up on his potential to become a New York City baseball star. When Davis blasted his monstrous homerun in the Mets first game of the Spring, he was given a rare standing ovation by the Port St. Lucie crowd.
Not to be outdone, Duda, too, was on his game, hitting the ball hard in two of three at bats, scorching the first two balls he hit to the outfield, one a double, only a diving outfield catch preventing a second extra base hit.
Like it or not, this spring’s first base competition promises to captivate scores of Met fans, with the Flushing faithful taking sides with hero and villain designations unwittingly assigned. Like the 1961 M & M battle of long ball Yankee excellence with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris vying to break Babe Ruth’s homerun record that ignited the fascination of the baseball world, on a minuscule scale far from baseball excellence, the D & D Met’s first base competition in Florida promises to elicit passionate discussion and debate, at least amongst Met fans. It should be a lot of fun.
The good news is both Davis and Duda appear centered and focused and ready to do battle. There are noticeable changes in the stance and hand position Davis brings to the plate, and Duda appears trimmer and more honed, perhaps a tad quicker to the ball. And, remarkably, the new Duda seems relaxed and confident chatting with the press. Met fans have to hope the competition brings out the best of both first base candidates.
My suspicions are management will only carry one of these guys north in April. The way I see it, the Met brass picked a first base winner last fall when they publicly announced their intention to trade Davis over the winter. To their credit, the Mets held on to Davis when they didn’t receive an offer with the return value they believe Davis should demand. If Davis rakes this spring, look for the Mets to restart trade talks in hopes his improved plate performance will bring a suitable trading suitor.
It’s a slippery slope. If Davis gets hot, and the Mets trade him away, and Ike hits as he did or better over his first three seasons for his new team, Met fans will be unforgiving for shipping him away in favor of Duda. That’s the backdrop that makes this spring’s first base reality show a high rating Mets baseball event.
(Photo by Brad Barr, USATSI)