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Mets 2017 Season Preview: Which player is most likely to surprise?

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Feb 24, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; New York Mets left fielder Michael Conforto (30) hits a solo home run during the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; New York Mets left fielder Michael Conforto (30) hits a solo home run during the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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Emmanuel Pepis, Staff Writer

When coming up with surprises for the 2017 Mets, there are a lot of different ways one can gravitate.

There are candidates coming off injury-plagued seasons last year like Travis d’Arnaud. Then there’s the hot topic of Michael Conforto who is doing everything possible to make the roster.

However, I’m digging a little deeper into the bag for this one. My 2017 surprise: Josh Smoker.

Now this hinges on a few things. We still haven’t heard what punishment Jeurys Familia will ultimately face. Another part of the equation is what happens to whoever loses the fifth starter battle. If it’s Robert Gsellman, he’ll most likely start the season in Las Vegas and open a spot. If it’s Seth Lugo however, there may still be a chance he sticks around as a long reliever.

The other factor in play involves position players. With David Wright’s injury, there’s a possibility at least at the start that the Mets may employ a four-man bench. That would open things up even more for Smoker to make the team.

Smoker has constructed a quick rise through the ranks since signing with the Mets in 2015. He started in Single-A and got to the big leagues by the end of 2016. Prior to that, Smoker was stuck in A-ball for five years in the Washington Nationals system before getting released.

While his career numbers aren’t much to look at (21-22, 4.52 ERA, 1.49 WHIP), Smoker has come a long way in the past couple of years. In his spring training calls, Smoker has given up one hit in 3.1 innings worked. In his last outing, Smoker came in and got a strikeout to end the eighth inning of Friday’s 11-3 win over Houston. He then pitched a scoreless ninth despite giving up a single and a walk to lead off the frame.

Smoker had unconventional numbers in his smaller sample size at the big-league level. The southpaw was more successful pitching to right-handed batters (.200 opponent BA) than lefties (.360). Yet there’s one thing that’s a great equalizer for Smoker and that’s the strikeout. He had 25 strikeouts in 15.1 innings with the Mets last season.

If Smoker can use the rest of this spring to show he can pitch more effectively to left-handers, then he could find himself as a valuable asset to the bullpen. It’s a long shot, but Smoker offers great velocity from the left side and the potential to be an above-average strikeout middle reliever.

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