Yoenis Cespedes provided a jolt to the New York Mets when he arrived in a trade-deadline deal with the Detroit Tigers for highly regarded pitching prospect Michael Fulmer last summer. In fact, after Cespedes joined the Mets, they became the first team in major league history to rank last in the majors in runs scored on July 31 and go on to reach the World Series.
Now, after a surprise re-signing with the Mets, what will Cespedes do for an encore?
Cespedes hit .287 with 17 homers and 44 RBIs in 230 at-bats with the Mets during the regular season in 2015. However, he did slump in October while battling through injuries, including a left shoulder issue that required a cortisone shot. Cespedes hit a combined 7-for-34 (.206) with no homers and four RBIs in nine games between the NLCS and World Series.
Penciled in to bat third, Cespedes’ role with the Mets should be similar to the final two months of last season. Against right-handed pitching, he will start in center field. Against left-handed pitching, when the Mets are inclined to use Juan Lagares in center field, Cespedes will slide over to left field.
The Mets have no intention of exposing Cespedes to right field, general manager Sandy Alderson said. So Michael Conforto may have to slide over to that position from left field on days Curtis Granderson does not start.
Alderson added that he believes Cespedes will be more proficient as a center fielder this season since he will have a full spring training to get further acclimated.
“I’m very happy to be putting on my Mets jersey again,” Cespedes recently said at Citi Field, after agreeing to a three-year, $75 million contract that includes the ability to opt out next winter. “I know that this team has everything it needs to continue on with what we started last year. ... I can say that from my first day when I came last season, that very first day, the fans just showed incredible support. My teammates were so welcoming, as well as the full Mets organization. From there, I just knew that I wanted to come back.”
Prospects to watch: After introducing Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Conforto to the majors in 2015, things might be a little calmer this upcoming season in terms of contributions from first-time major leaguers. Still, there is more talent on the way.
Outfielder Brandon Nimmo, a lefty-hitting center fielder, now has a 40-man roster spot and could reach the majors when rosters expand Sept. 1 (although it’s difficult to project him arriving earlier because of a glut of major league outfielders). Nimmo actually may open the season on the DL before reporting to Triple-A Las Vegas. He was fitted with a boot in late January because of a partial tear to a tendon in his left foot.
Also expected to start at Las Vegas are infielders Gavin Cecchini, Matt Reynolds and Dilson Herrera. Herrera already has appeared in the majors, but now may be relegated to Vegas for most of the season thanks to the arrival of Neil Walker in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Reynolds appeared on the postseason roster after Ruben Tejada suffered a fractured fibula in his right leg, but never got into a game.
Also watch out for hard-throwing left-handed reliever Josh Smoker. A former first-round pick of the Washington Nationals, Smoker had been relegated to independent ball before rediscovering his velocity and getting signed by the Mets. Smoker was added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft.