As Mets pitchers and catchers report Tuesday, it would be naive to term any potential roster battle in spring training as "exciting." The second base job will probably be the most interesting, though there's not really an electrifying candidate who will really "wow" anyone with his talents. Another component to this spring training: none of the best Mets prospects are really battling for jobs. Ike Davis has hold of first base, Jenrry Mejia needs more time in the minors, Wilmer Flores is 19 and hasn't played above High-A and Matt Harvey has a power arm but hasn't logged an inning in the minors.
Still, the Mets active roster is far from set. One of the roles to be carved out this spring is the team's lefty reliever/LOOGY spot. With Pedro Feliciano's departure to the Yankees, the Mets really have an open tryout for his bullpen job. Whomever wins the spot has large shoes to fill, but considering the Mets will face left-handed hitters such as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann quite often this season, it would certainly behoove the Mets to have a lefty neutralizer in the 'pen.
Let's take a look at the candidates, Tim Byrdak, Michael O'Connor and Taylor Tankersley -- all of whom are non-roster invitees -- and their chances to nab the job. There's a lot to learn about the new crop:
Tim Byrdak: Byrdak, 37, is the elder statesmen of the bunch. He toed the rubber for Kansas City from 1998 to 2000 (only throwing 32.2 innings), then had Tommy John Surgery in 2001 and made it back to the big leagues with Baltimore in 2005 and 2006. He spent a year with Detroit and then the past three have been spent with Houston. Primarily a fastball-slider guy, who will throw in a change-up on occasion, Byrdak averages about 89-90 mph on his fastball. His slider sits at around 82 mph and looks to be his go-to strikeout pitch. In his nine seasons, Byrdak has thrown 266.2 innings, given up 251 hits, walked 164 batters and fanned 242. His career ERA is 4.35 and his career WHIP is 1.55. In the past four seasons, however, Byrdak has a 3.46 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and a 5.0 BB/9.
For the Mets' purposes, his lefty-right splits over his career: .202/.296/.380 to .288/.402/.484. Allowing close to a hit per inning isn't necessarily a terrible thing, but it is when you walk five batters per nine innings and that could be his undoing this spring. Still, he has the best major-league pedigree of the crop and has been effective in the 'pen over the past few seasons
Michael O'Connor: O'Connor is a 30-year-old who has only pitched at the major-league level for the Nationals before throwing in the minors for San Diego and Kansas City, and then the Mets in 2010. O'Connor has pitched as a starter for the majority of his professional career -- but with the Mets' Triple-A team, he has been exclusively a reliever. He came into 51 games last year, 70 innings, and allowed 65 hits, walked 17 (2.17 BB/9) and struckout 70 to a tune of a 2.67 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.
In his 747 minor-league innings, he has a 3.90 ERA, 1.26 WHIP to go along with 8.41 H/9, 2.91 BB/9 and 8.37 K/9. With the Nationals at the major-league level, O'Connor threw 114 innings, allowed 107 hits, fanned batters a much lower rate compared to his time in the minors, 63, and walked 56. He has a 5.45 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP in the majors. O'Connor is a light-throwing lefty, as he'll only top out at 85-86 mph, with a curveball and changeup, but as someone who has struggled as a starter in the majors and who was extremely effective in relief at Triple-A, he may have a good shot at making a major-league career out of being a lefty-specialist assuming his audition with the Mets goes smoothly: his .241/.330/.402 line against lefties (with only two HR allowed) to .253/.347/.453 rate against righties (compared to 16 HR allowed) at the majors at least suggests that it might.
Taylor Tankersley: The 27-year-old has spent his entire career with the Marlins, amassing 118 innings in four stints at the major-league level. In his career, he has a 4.58 ERA, 1.52 WHIP; and he's given up 109 hits, struckout 115 and walked 70. Another guy who appears to kill his own fortunes with walks, but someone who has the ability to wiggle out of the messes on his own because of his solid strikeout numbers. In his first two seasons, he threw 88.1 innings, allowed 75 hits, walked 55 and K'd 95 -- accompanied with a 3.46 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.
He threw just 12 innings last season after suffering a fractured elbow in 2009, when he missed the whole season, but the Mets' managements has to hope that he can regain some of his ability, two years after surgery. Tankersley runs his fastball in the high 80s, has a slider and changeup, which he uses the least frequently. His lefty-righty splits in the majors: .223/.313/.372 to .268/.386/.452. If his stuff is back and he can limit his walks, Tankersley could make noise this Spring.
Darkhorses: Oliver Perez: If his starting experiment fails completely and Terry Collins decides to try him as a reliever, his .226/.317/.374 career mark against lefties looks nice, but over the past few years his stuff has wilted, he's lost the strikezone completely and his ERA and WHIP have soared, so that all that seems like wishful thinking at this point. Casey Fossum: Mets signed him to a minor-league deal -- so their hopes were already low -- as he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009 and spent 2010 in Japan, where he struggled as a LOOGY.