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What the New York Mets Have Left to Prove in the Last Week of Spring Training

The New York Mets will try to ease worries about the middle of their defense before the end of spring training.

The reigning National League champions boast a prolific lineup that was eighth in the league in home runs last season. They also have one of the best starting rotations in baseball.

The defense behind that excellent starting pitching, particularly up the middle, is the Mets’ area of greatest concern before the beginning of the season. They were minus-5 as a team in defensive runs saved (DRS) last season, No. 18 in the majors, according to FanGraphs.

Many of the issues last year could be traced back to the defense at shortstop, second base and in center field. They have two new players at those positions this year, but the outlook doesn’t look much better.

Yoenis Cespedes, playing center, is the returning starter from the middle of the Mets defense last season.

He’s a solid defender but does not have great range, and the Mets aren’t good on defense with him in center field. He was minus-4 last year in defensive runs saved above average (DRS) in center field for the Mets, according to His DRS in left was just 4.

That showed in the Mets’ World Series loss to the Kansas City Royals. He misplayed a fly ball in the fifth inning of Game 4 to put the Royals’ first run of the game on base.

Mets manager Terry Collins toyed with the idea of playing Cespedes in center field with Juan Lagares in left when the team plays lefty pitchers. Last season the Mets would move him to left field and allow Lagares to play center against left-handers.

The rationale was that letting Cespedes stay at one position would help him be a more consistent defender. Collins said Tuesday, however, that he will “probably” stick with the conventional alignment he used in 2015, according to’s Adam Rubin.

Having to split time between both left and center instead of focusing on one position probably won’t help him. For the Mets to get back to the World Series, Cespedes needs to show he can get closer to the Gold Glove defense he once played.

Cespedes is not the main issue in the middle of the Mets defense, though. Their middle infield could be problematic too.

They signed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, another inconsistent defender, to a two-year deal. Cespedes at least had a DRS of 11 between his time with the Detroit Tigers and Mets last year, per FanGraphs. Cabrera was minus-8 in DRS in 2015, according to FanGraphs. That mark was second-worst in the league among shortstops.

The situation at second base is not much better. The Mets traded for Neil Walker in the offseason, whose DRS was also in the negative last season.

When looking at Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Cespedes actually looks really good compared to the other two. His UZR of 15.6 was third in the league among outfielders. Meanwhile, Walker and Cabrera were both well below average.

Any one of those players’ deficiencies could be hidden if he was surrounded by plus defenders. Instead, the Mets are taking a chance by playing them all on defense at once. Their hope is that their offensive production and great starting pitching will mask those issues.

They’re trying to address those concerns now, and they will have to answer those questions all season.

They have three games remaining this spring, starting with Wednesday’s matchup with the Washington Nationals. Over those remaining games, they need to continue to show improvement in the middle of their defense and prove it won’t be as much of a liability as people expect.

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Julio Teheran Needs to Prove the Braves Right in 2016

The Atlanta Braves have made it clear they are rebuilding this season, and they have also made it clear that during that rebuild, Julio Teheran will need to be the team’s ace.

Atlanta has groomed Teheran for the last three years in hopes that he could be the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation. The deal that sent Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December guaranteed he would get that chance.

The Braves are trusting Teheran to anchor an inexperienced staff while their young pitchers develop. He needs to justify that trust by getting back to his level of play from a couple of years ago.

The right-hander flashed ace potential during his All-Star season in 2014. That year, he posted a 2.89 ERA while striking out 186 batters and walking just 51 in 33 starts. He regressed last year, finishing with a 4.04 ERA, 171 strikeouts and 73 walks in 33 starts.

The Braves dealt Miller believing Teheran could get back to his 2014 form and shoulder the burden of being the staff’s top starter. Advanced metrics back up that belief.

Teheran’s WAR in 2015 was 1.5, according to His WAR of 3.2 as a rookie in 2013 and 3.9 in 2014 make last year look like an aberration. also rated him as 15 runs above average (RAA) in 2013, with an 18 RAA in 2014. Again, his performance last year looks like an anomaly instead of the norm. His RAA in 2015 was minus-one.

Julio Teheran Statistics: 2013-15

2013 14-8 3.20 1.174 170 45 3.2 15
2014 14-13 2.89 1.081 186 51 3.9 18
2015 11-8 4.04 1.306 171 73 1.5 -1

Looking at his traditional and advanced statistics together, his numbers were worse across the board last year compared to his first two years in the majors. It’s a small sample size, but it’s reasonable to think that 2016 will look less like last year and more like his first two seasons.

Teheran is a strikeout pitcher with good velocity and the ability to overpower hitters when he has command. Last year, he struggled with his command, surrendering 19 more earned runs and 22 more walks than the year before.

He has been in control in limited work this spring. He needed only 35 pitches to get through four scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, allowing just two men on base.

The Braves desperately need him to return to form, because if he struggles, the team’s other options for a No. 1 starter are thin.

After shipping away Miller and Alex Wood last year, Teheran leads a rotation that will feature Matt Wisler, Bud Norris, Manny Banuelos and likely Mike Foltynewicz when he eventually finishes recovering from rib surgery.

Norris is a journeyman. Banuelos underwent Tommy John surgery early in his career, which makes him a health concern.

Wisler and Foltynewicz are both talented young pitchers, but they lack Teheran’s experience.

Young arms litter the Atlanta farm system, but Aaron Blair, Lucas Sims and Tyrell Jenkins aren’t ready to be major league starters yet.

If Teheran can’t handle going against opponents’ top starters on a consistent basis, Atlanta may have to consider dealing for another high-quality arm.

The likelihood a team deals a true ace to the Braves without asking for some of the top talent in the Atlanta farm system is slim. The chances the Braves agree to such a deal are even slimmer.

The Braves’ best combination of talent and experience is Teheran. Their wealth of minor league pitchers may hold a future ace, but the organization won’t know that this season.

So for now, the Braves have placed their hopes on Teheran. They are content to sit near the bottom of the National League East standings again this season, so he doesn’t have to be a 20-win pitcher.

They just need him to prove that giving him the top spot in the rotation was the right choice.

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What We’ve Learned from the Start of Atlanta Braves Spring Training

For many teams, spring training helps gauge what to expect in the upcoming season. For the Atlanta Braves, however, it’s clear that this spring training is more about the seasons to come.

The Braves are in the midst of a rebuilding project after shipping off major pieces last season and this offseason. They sent young lefty Alex Wood to the Dodgers at the end of July. They traded shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Angels in November. Then they moved All-Star right-hander Shelby Miller to Arizona in December.

Today, Atlanta is a much younger team aiming to be great in 2017 and beyond rather than this season. That can be seen in the abundance of young talent the organization has in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

One of the players creating the most excitement among the fanbase is one who likely won’t even be on the roster for the season opener: last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Dansby Swanson.

Swanson came to Atlanta in the Miller trade. The shortstop grew up in the Atlanta area and went to Marietta High School, not far from where the Braves’ new stadium, SunTrust Park, is being built.

Just like with Jeff Francoeur and Jason Heyward in their early years, there’s a lot of excitement about the hometown prospect coming to play for Atlanta. Swanson told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he’s excited to play for his hometown team.

The shortstop was one of several position players to arrive early to spring training. He hit .289 with one home run, 11 RBI and a .394 OBP in 22 games with the Hillsboro Hops last year.

Swanson will likely get called up to the majors this season. He already has a pretty swing, as he shows in the Cage Cam video below from the Braves’ Twitter account. That’s a positive sign for a player who’s only 22.

Atlanta also has a wealth of young pitching talent. Matt Wisler, a 23-year-old right-hander, is expected to play a significant role in the Braves’ rotation.

In the video below from Grant McAuley of 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, Wisler is working on his pitch placement. As a control pitcher, that’s the key to his success. If he can continue to improve his accuracy, he could give the Braves a reliable option in the middle of their rotation.

The Braves are also counting on Mike Foltynewicz. The 24-year-old is still working back after blood clots ended his season in September. O’Brien reported that Foltynewicz threw in the bullpen on Sunday morning for the first time since having surgery in December.

Folty threw the ball well,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told O’Brien. “That’s a nice sign, to get on the mound and get going.”

Another healthy young arm will be valuable for the Braves as they continue their rebuild. But it isn’t all young talent making impressions for Atlanta.

Hector Olivera, the 30-year-old acquired by the Braves in that blockbuster trade with the Dodgers last season, has unveiled a simpler swing to start spring training. You can see in this video from’s Mark Bowman that his motion is smoother and more relaxed:

O’Brien reported that Olivera began tinkering with his swing during winter league play in Puerto Rico with the help of Atlanta hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.

Olivera’s winter league coach, Alex Cora, told O’Brien that Olivera looks comfortable with the new motion.

Hector looks, physically, a lot better in that video,” Cora told O’Brien.

The left fielder will be one of the players tasked with keeping Atlanta afloat while the organization develops all its young talent.

It’s clear that the Braves’ 2016 spring training isn’t really about 2016. It’s about the future. As the season opener approaches, they’ll be focused more on the outlook for their young players than the expectations for this season.

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MLB Free Agents: Latest Buzz Ahead of Spring Training

A former CY Young winner, a former World Series MVP, a solid starting righty and this year’s top international prospect all have something in common: They’re all still available as MLB free agents.

Pitchers and catchers report in two days, but there are still some big names who don’t know where they will be playing in 2016. Teams looking to add a piece before the season still have a chance to make a splash with one of these players.

There are deals that are supposedly already done but have yet to be signed. Other players are still surveying their options. Some of the remaining free agents will help a team’s chances to compete this year. Others will be an investment for the future.

Veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo was very close to a three-year deal with the Orioles as of Feb. 10, according to Buster OlneyHowever, the deal has yet to get done.

Gallardo is probably the best remaining starting pitcher on the market, but some have questioned if the prospective deal is worth it for Baltimore. Camden Chat, the Orioles’ SB Nation site, argues that it is.

Jacob Kornhauser at Call to the Pen goes a step further.  

He says the deal needs to get done—and soon—if Baltimore wants to be competitive in the AL East.

Another pitcher, Tim Lincecum, is supposed to have a showcase this month in front of multiple teams to demonstrate the progress he’s made since his hip surgery in September, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

It will be clearer where Lincecum is likely to go after that showcase. Giants executive vice president Brian Sabean told Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle that it’s a “long shot” Lincecum returns to the Giants. His absence has already been felt by the fans.

Free agent third baseman David Freese is weighing his options as well. After batting a career-low .257 with the Los Angeles Angels last season, he’s looking for a fresh start.’s Anthony Castrovince told 92.3 the Fan in Cleveland on Monday that he thinks Freese could end up with the Cleveland Indians thanks to a lack of openings at third base around the league.

Braves president of baseball operations John Hart told MLB network radio yesterday that Atlanta intends to be active in pursuing international free agents.

ESPN reports that Atlanta is supposed to be one of the main suitors for Lazaro Armenteros, the No. 1 prospect in Cuba. The report also says Armenteros worked out with the Braves last week.

One AL scout compared the 16-year-old Cuban outfielder’s combination of speed and power to Willie Mays and Bo Jackson, Bob Nightingale of USA Today reports.

The uncertainty around these players will make the first part of spring training interesting. Depending on where they land, they may drastically change the outlook for the regular season as well.

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