The early success that has led the Mets to a 4-2 start this season has surprised the league, and while most analysts felt the team would struggle right out of the gate without Jose Reyes at the top of the line up, they have shown the ability to make things happen without their former leadoff hitter. Hearing the post-game interviews following their victories over the Braves and their walk-off win against Washington, the one constant line was that, “It was a team win.” There are a handful of players who have been a pleasant surprise a week into this new season. The players I have in mind are Josh Thole, Bobby Parnell, as well as Ruben Tejada.
Josh Thole has looked good on all fronts so far this year, not just at the plate, but behind it as well. Offensively, the Mets backstop had a decent first full year in the Majors last year (.268/.345/.344) minus his power numbers. We all know that Thole will not end up being another Mike Piazza, but with the small sample we have so far this year, he is hitting to his strengths, which is driving the ball with authority to the opposite field. I was shocked at how shallow the Atlanta outfield was playing this past weekend, and pleased when Thole took a pitch on the outside part of the plate to the left-center field wall for a double. Pitchers have been busting him inside a bit, but he has been taking that pitch and waiting for the one he can drive.
Behind the plate, he looks like a whole different catcher from 2011. He looks a lot more comfortable blocking balls, and I’ve seen him make some throws to 2nd base throughout this spring to nab base stealers that he would have never done last year. Like most of the team, he did struggle a little during the final two games against the Nationals, but overall, he looks very different on defense. Besides the hard work, his close relationship with backup catcher (and defensive specialist) Mike Nickeas is a huge. I’m excited to see how he progresses behind the plate and handling the pitching staff this season now that he’s entrenched as the starter.
A huge surprise for me has been the confidence and performance of Bobby Parnell. I didn’t get chance to see him pitch while he throw 12.1 scoreless innings in Port St. Lucie, but he is a whole new pitcher. Instead of throwing close to 100 mph and not having any control, we’re now watching Parnell control all of his pitches and throwing to the corners of the plate. It was weird watching him start off an at-bat with a 92 mph fastball and mixing in his new knuckle curve. I saw this unfold and thought, “Who the heck is this guy?”
To me, a sign of a great pitcher is when they can not only control the rhythm of the at-bat, use his pitches according to the situation at
hand. When he’s getting deeper in counts, he’s bringing out that 96 mph fastball that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Thole said it best in a post-game interview; every MLB hitter is going to eventually catch up to a fastball, as long as they know it’s coming. Now that he’s throwing in some secondary pitches, hitters are back on their heels and it will be hard to catch up to that mid-90s fastball now that they’re not expecting it all the time. Parnell is a critical piece of the bullpen in that seventh inning role. It’s up to him to bridge the gap from the starter to Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco in the late innings.
Lastly, Ruben Tejada has been showing the type of potential he has at shortstop. What I forget most of the time when I’m watching Tejada is that he is only 22 years old. Since he’s been up and down with the club for three years now, we just assume that he’s in his mid-20s. After a slow start in the first couple of games, his offense has been coming around quite nicely, starting with his huge four-hit performance on Sunday. Tejada also looks quite comfortable in the leadoff spot; even with the offense struggling of late, Ruben’s ability to get on base has been making it easy for Terry Collins to pencil him into the #1 spot in the lineup while Torres is on the shelf. Defensively, he looks very smooth at the shortstop. After watching him play some second base in recent years, it’s clear that he is now at his natural position, and there hasn’t been much talk about Jose Reyes not being around. Even though he’s very young, he’s showing that now is his time to be the starter, and he can go nowhere but up from here.
For the Mets to continue to have success, these three pleasant surprises need to keep being just that. Who is the biggest surprise thus far for you this season?