In part one of our New York Mets 2021 season primer, we went over all the big offseason moves that flipped Queens upside down, and made expectations soar. In part two of our primer - the finale - we'll be going over what is to be expected from the already established Mets players, such as bounce back performances, repeat performances, breakout seasons, and timetables for return from injury.
Seth Lugo will be exempt from this list, as his timetable for return from his elbow injury is still unknown. Lugo has not even begun to throw after his mid-February elbow surgery, and seems far from returning.
Up first, you guessed it - one of the greatest players to ever don a Mets uniform, the ace of the New York Mets, Jacob deGrom, otherwise known as Jacob "deGoat."
At this point in his career, no one expects anything less from deGrom than pure excellence. The best pitcher in baseball today is coming off of his third straight Cy Young nomination, where he finished third in voting behind Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs, and the winner Trevor Bauer of the (then) Cincinnati Reds. deGrom won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2018 and 2019, when in 2019 he received 29 out of 30 votes for first place, just narrowly missing the unanimous victory.
Jacob deGrom is looking once again to dominate after a 2020 campaign where he saw himself finish the season with a 2.38 ERA, .956 WHIP, 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings, and rack up 104 strikeouts. deGrom's 2021 Spring Training stats include an ERA of 0.66, 21 strikeouts, and a 0.66 WHIP through 13.2 innings pitched. deGrom was also seen lighting up the radar gun at over 100 MPH multiple times this spring, showing that he's only getting better and stronger as the years go on.
Mets' fans and baseball fans should expect nothing less than another Cy Young worthy season from the 2014 Rookie of the Year and 3x MLB All-Star, Jacob deGrom.
New York Mets' first baseman Pete Alonso captured the hearts and minds of Mets' fans after a stellar 2019 rookie season. After years of seeing highlights of Alonso crushing home runs in the minors, Mets' fans knew that they had an exciting and promising young prospect working his way through the system. Fans couldn't have asked for a better rookie campaign than what Alonso gave them in 2019. Alonso made his first All-Star appearance in his first year in the Majors, won the 2019 Home Run Derby Championship, and most importantly of all, set the rookie home run record when he smacked his 53rd home run of the season in September of 2019, breaking the record of 52 home runs set by the cross-town rival Aaron Judge in 2017.
The ever so prevalent sophomore slump hit Alonso hard in the shortened 2020 season. Alonso finished the disappointing year for the Mets with a .231 batting average, .326 OBP, .490 slugging percentage, .817 OPS, 16 home runs, 25 RBI's and 61 strikeouts in 208 plate appearances.
Mets fans should expect a bounce back season from Alonso in 2021, as he finished Spring Training with a .340 batting average, 4 home runs, 16 RBI's and zero strikeouts in 50 plate appearances. The Polar Bear revenge tour starts now.
Jeff McNeil has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last three seasons. Plain and simple. If you think he isn't an immediate contender for a batting title, then you haven't been paying attention. McNeil - also a defensive guru - finished the 2020 season with a .311 batting average, which many considered to be a "down" year for the Mets best hitter, since he hit for .381 in 2018 and .384 in his All-Star year of 2019. That is two straight seasons of hitting right below .400 for the season, that is an incredible stat.
The only worrisome down side to all of this has been McNeil's 2021 Spring Training performance. McNeil was only able to muster up one home run, two RBI's and a .109 batting average in 46 plate appearances. I know it's just Spring Training, but I honestly would expect McNeil to struggle in the first few weeks of the season, if not the first few months. His abysmal Spring Training is sure to bring low confidence into the early stages of the regular season, but McNeil is way too good of a hitter to stay down for long.
A big theme this offseason for the Mets has been contract extensions. It's no secret that new Mets owner Steve Cohen has deep pockets, and one of his missions for this season is to work out contract extensions for his better players. A Francisco Lindor extension has been in the limelight for a few months now, but lurking in the shadows are two players who are also in the contract extension conversation - Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto.
While we haven't seen the same production from Conforto that Mets fans had grown used to in 2016 and 2017, Conforto is still one of the more solid hitting outfielders in the National League. In 202 at bats in 2020, Conforto hit for a .322 batting average, 31 RBI's, nine home runs, .927 OPS, and a .412 slugging percentage.
Conforto had an average Spring Training, with a batting average of .255, one homerun, three RBI's, and a .667 OPS in 47 plate appearances.
Mets fans should expect another quality season from Conforto. I don't see him having a stellar season, hitting over .300 or having 40 home runs, but I can see him hitting between .270 and .290, and racking up 20-25 home runs.
The New York Mets missed Syndergaard sorely in 2020, as the electric right handed starting pitcher underwent Tommy John's surgery. With Syndergaard's timetable for return still being unclear, the Mets went ahead and acquired a slew of starting pitchers in order to help bolster the rotation behind deGrom. Good news for Mets' fans though, as it was reported that Syndergaard has been progressing by leaps and bounds as he continues to rehab.
According to Mets manager Luis Rojas, Syndergaard was clocking a velocity of 97 MPH during a simulated session on Friday. While 97 MPH is a far cry from Syndergaard's usual 100-102 MPH velocity, it is an encouraging sign to see Noah hitting the high 90's ahead of his late May-early June return to the rotation.
Not sure how to tackle this one. The Edwin Diaz/Robinson Cano trade is still a sore spot for Mets' fans, as it could quite possibly turn out to be one of the worst trades in franchise history. But I'll try to push through this one without putting my fist through a wall.
Even the most casual baseball fan knows the Edwin Diaz story. A very prized, very promising young relief pitcher in Seattle, considered to be the best closer in baseball in 2018. Then, Diaz got Mets'd. After a blockbuster offseason trade that saw former Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen send a slew of players to Seattle - including two top Mets prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn - in exchange for Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and $20 million, Diaz's production tanked. Tanked doesn't even do his abysmal performance justice, he tanked so hard it was like a scene out of the Titanic.
Diaz's 2020 season didn't get off to the hottest start either, but an encouraging sign was that he finished the season on a strong note. I wouldn't expect Diaz to return to his 2018 form, I would actually bet against it, but here's to hoping he can be even halfway competent on the mound in 2021.
Stroman is on the hot seat with Mets fans right now. After being traded to the Mets in 2019, reports surfaced that Stroman threw a temper tantrum in the Toronto Blue Jays locker room upon hearing the news. Stroman denied over and over again that the rumors were true, and after having a solid second half of the season in New York, the fans seemed like they were finally cutting him some slack.
That was until the news broke that Stroman was going to opt out of the 2020 MLB season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While you can't blame anyone for wanting to stay safe and out of harms way during these trying times, the decision came at a time when the team and the fanbase were counting on him the most. The Mets rotation was already razor thin following Noah Syndergaard's Tommy John's surgery, and aside from deGrom and Stroman, the Mets really had no help at the starting pitcher position.
I don't expect Stroman to come back in 2021 after having missed a whole year and have a career year, but I do expect him to be a solid #2 behind deGrom until Syndergaard returns to full form. I think Stroman should have some expectations of his own as well. If he ever expects to be welcomed by the fanbase after his alleged "temper tantrum" and his opt out, he needs to go out on the mound and leave everything he's got on the field in 2021.
It should be mentioned, however, that I am high on Stroman this year, I am a big fan and I believe that he can have himself a stellar season.
One phrase comes to mind when I think of Dominic Smith in 2021 - breakout year. Smith's career starting out with the Mets was a rocky one. Smith was a top Mets prospect along with (now) Cleveland Indians shortstop Amed Rosario. Many thought of Smith and Rosario as the next iteration of David Wright and Jose Reyes, two electric and exciting prospects coming to Queens and leading the team back to the playoffs, much like Wright and Reyes did back in the mid-2000's.
Smith was called up in 2017 to play first base for the Mets, and he was an immediate disappointment. The next two years of his career were plagued with trade rumors, below average performances, and frustration from fans. After the emergence of Pete Alonso, Smith quickly lost his job at first base. Alonso was seen as the first baseman of the future for the Mets, and Smith was left out in the rain.
Smith had a surprisingly good 2019 and 2020 season, with a combined batting average of .299, .366 OBP, .571 slugging percentage, .937 OPS, and 21 home runs in 396 plate appearances. As of 2021, Smith doesn't have a starting position on the team, which should be a crime because this kid deserves his playing time. It was thought that with the National League adopting the designated hitter position last year that Smith would have the perfect chance to put a full season's work on display at the DH position. But alas, the DH will not be apart of the National League's plans in 2021.
If Smith can find his way into a starting position at any point this season, I fully expect a breakout season, and maybe even an All-Star nod.
I've probably mentioned about five times already in this article how the 2020 Mets starting rotation was their Achilles heel, and aside from Jacob deGrom being Jacob deGrom, it wasn't all rain clouds and sadness.
David Peterson made his MLB debut in 2020, and put up some pretty solid numbers for a rookie left hander. Posting a 6-2 record with a 3.44 ERA and 1.208 WHIP, Peterson was seen a sign of hope in a dark year for Mets baseball.
Peterson is going to have his work cutout for him, however, as he'll need to stay sharp and consistent if he's going to keep his spot in the starting rotation amidst the return of Noah Syndergaard, the re-signing of Marcus Stroman, and the acquisition of Carlos Corrasco and Taijuan Walker.
I'm not sure how much I expect from a pitcher who's only major league experience came in a shortened 2020 season with no fans in attendance, but I do expect him to fight tooth and nail in order to make sure he stays somewhere in the rotation.
Davis has been a fan favorite ever since he was acquired from the Houston Astros in 2019. After Davis was shifted from third base to the outfield, he became a very pivotal piece of the Mets second half push to the playoffs that year (a push they failed at)
Davis had a quiet Spring Training, with a .216 batting average, .717 OPS, one home run and three RBI's in 37 plate appearances, Davis isn't turning any heads going into the 2021 regular season.
I expect more consistency, more fireworks, and more clutch at-bats from Davis this year.
And finally, last but not least, we have the happiest baseball player in the world, Brandon Nimmo. I don't understand the hate that some Mets fans have for Nimmo, I actually think Nimmo is a solid leadoff hitter. Sure, he's not the ideal leadoff hitter. He lacks the speed necessary to be a true elite leadoff man, but I haven't seen a player grind out at-bats the way that Nimmo does in a longtime. With the patience and plate discipline that Nimmo shows with the bat in his hands, there's not another player on this Mets squad that I want at the plate when there is a shaky pitcher on the mound who's struggling with his command, maybe except for Jeff McNeil.
Call me out and hate me all you want for being a Nimmo supporter, but I'm all for Nimmo proving people wrong this year. I expect him to get to the plate, leave the criticisms in the dugout, and continue to grind out at bats, tire and frustrate pitchers with his meticulous pitch selection, and then sprint down to first base in .6 seconds after he draws a walk.
Follow me on Twitter for all your latest New York Mets news, rumors and updates. @NY_cth.