St. Lucie Mets preview: Young & ready
By Eric Pfahler
Originally published 01:10 a.m., April 2, 2008
Updated 12:58 a.m., April 2, 2008
PORT ST. LUCIE A fresh crop of pitchers and a solid defense up the middle could be the key to the St. Lucie Mets reaching the postseason for a third straight season.
It all starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Tradition Field, where St. Lucie plays the Vero Beach Devil Rays in the season opener.
Tim Teufel is back for a second stint as the St. Lucie manager, after calling the shots for the Savannah Sand Gnats last year.
"It's an exciting year coming up," Teufel said.
Six of the Mets pitchers are in their first full season in the minors, including starters Eric Niesen, Dylan Owen, Dillon Gee and Brant Rustich.
Those four pitchers were taken in last year's draft and could help replenish a minor league system that traded three of its best pitching prospects for two-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher Johan Santana.
"I think you're going to see some guys battling, for working that secondary pitch and spotting that fastball," Teufel said. "That's going to be the primary battle for the first half.
"The ones who do that are going to have success."
The Mets again have a teenage star to build around in 18-year-old shortstop Ruben Tejada. Last year's opening day starting pitcher Deolis Guerra was 17 when he made his first FSL start, as the New York Mets are known to push players through the system quickly to see how they respond early in their careers.
"The level of the talent tells us and the maturity in the game tells us that they can handle this situation," Mets Vice President of Player Development Tony Bernazard said.
"If a guy struggles, I want to find out early. I don't want to find out too late."
Tejada will team up with second baseman Hector Pellot, who at 21 years of age already had a taste of the Florida State League last season.
Outfielders Ezequiel Carrera and Brahiam Maldonado along with catcher Sean McCraw and infielder D.J. Wabick are also among players who should get plenty of starts.
Those are some of the players St. Lucie Mets fans will cheer on this season.
Teufel said he's ready to get started.
"The makeup is great, great attitude, a lot of speed, good pitching, so we should be an exciting team to watch," he said.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Here's a look at three players being looked upon to lead the St. Lucie Mets this season.
Why: A college closer, Rustich will be looked upon to start for the Mets. He has reached 97 mph with his fastball, but his offspeed pitches will determine whether Rustich remains as a starter.
Why: McCraw has experience in the Florida State League after a midseason promotion last year. He should be able to help the pitching staff adjust to the new league.
Position: Second baseman
Why: Pellot has seen his status in the organization grow and should be a solid double-play partner for 18-year-old Ruben Tejada. Pellot his .304 in a small taste of the Florida State League last season.