Sophomore jump for Jordany Valdespin? He has a lot of competition
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets manager Terry Collins began giving his daily media briefings Tuesday. And at each one, he has mentioned that roster spots remain open for the taking, a perfect situation for players who will work to seize the opportunity.
With an outfield in dire need of talent and a bullpen in the midst of yet another massive overhaul, Mets camp indeed is rife with chances to make the Opening Day roster. But it means something else for those who now must claw through a crowded field to hang on to their jobs.
That's the reality that greeted Jordany Valdespin Saturday when he reported to camp.
A year ago, the versatile utilityman made his big-league debut in late April. Except for a brief demotion in late August, Valdespin remained with the Mets. The 25-year-old even carved his name into the franchise's record books with five pinch-hit home runs. His timing seemed impeccable.
Said Collins: "He did some very, very good things for us coming off the bench, pinch hitting.''
But this year, with more bodies in camp, Valdespin faces a tough road if he is to begin the year in the big leagues.
"They have the decision,'' Valdespin said. "I don't have control about that, so the only thing I can do is play hard every day and see what happens.''
Valdespin hit .241 with an on-base percentage of only .286 in 94 games for the Mets last season, but he hit eight homers and played all over the diamond. He made 21 starts in leftfield, 16 at second base, 11 in centerfield, 10 in rightfield and four at shortstop, a testament to his versatility.
"I learned a lot of things,'' Valdespin said. "When you're a young guy, you don't know the league like the veteran guys. Now you know how to prepare to help your team.''
But as the season wore on, Valdespin saw a steady diet of breaking pitches, a result of his inability to adjust. Plate discipline will be a point of emphasis as camp unfolds.
Valdespin spent winter ball playing the outfield, and Collins considers him one of the players in the mix to win a job. But that competition could be fierce. Collins has committed to giving Lucas Duda the job in leftfield to start the season. Meanwhile, the Mets brought in veteran Marlon Byrd, who appears slated for the job in rightfield. That leaves openings as part of a possible platoon in centerfield and also a spot on the bench.
But Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who like Valdespin is a lefthanded hitter, looks positioned to be at least part of a platoon in centerfield. Righthanded hitter Collin Cowgill, who has experience in centerfield, could form the other half of the platoon.
Mike Baxter, another returning player from last season, also is in the mix.
Valdespin's prospects appear equally difficult when it comes to winning a job as a utility infielder, a competition that includes the likes of Justin Turner. When Grapefruit League games begin, the Mets intend to use Valdespin around the infield.
"We know, if need be, we can play him in the outfield,'' Collins said. "We need to take a look at him in the infield right now.''
To Valdespin, his role is secondary as long as he has one with the Mets.
"I'm ready for any situation that TC wants,'' Valdespin said of his manager. "If he wants second base, utility guy, I'm ready, because the only thing I want is just to stay on the team.''