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Citak: 5 Biggest Questions Facing Mets Entering Spring Training

Matt Citak
February 11, 2019 - 2:03 pm

With football season officially in the rearview mirror, it is time to shift our focus down to Port St. Lucie.

Pitchers and catchers will report to First Data Field for the start of Mets' spring training Wednesday, with position players following a few days later.

While new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has proclaimed the Mets to be the "team to beat" in the NL East, manager Mickey Callaway's squad still has a few things to figure out before the season kicks off March 28.

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Without further ado, here are New York's five biggest questions to be answered by the end of spring training.

1. Is Peter Alonso ready to take over first base?

Alonso shot up baseball's top-prospects lists after his dominant 2018 performance. In 132 games between Double-A and Triple-A, the first baseman hit .285/.395/.579 while mashing 36 HRs and 119 RBIs.

With Yoenis Cespedes likely out until at least August, the Mets could use some real right-handed power in the lineup. Enter Alonso. As long as his minor league slugging can translate to the big leagues and his defense holds up, the 24-year-old should find his way into the everyday lineup sooner rather than later.

We already know that the young first baseman will spend at least the first two weeks of the season in the minors in order for the Mets to gain an extra year of team control. And since he wasn't called up in September, spring training will be Alonso's only time to show Van Wagenen and Callaway that he deserves the starting first-base job. 

After the additions of Jed Lowrie and Robinson Cano to an already crowded infield this offseason, that won't be an easy task for Alonso.

2. Will Jacob deGrom get his long-term deal?

It was Van Wagenen the agent who demanded last year that the Mets either give deGrom a contract extension or trade him to a team that would. Now that he is running the Mets' front office, will Van Wagenen the GM award his former client with the extension he deserves?

The Cy Young Award winner still has two years left before he hits the open market, so there is an argument to be made that the team would be better off waiting until next offseason to work out a long-term deal. But the closer the 30-year-old gets to free agency, the less motivated he will be to give New York any sort of hometown discount.

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There is no doubt that deGrom's camp is satisfied (for now) with the $17 million salary the two sides agreed upon for his 2019 salary. But as each day passes, skepticism will continue to grow around the notion that the Mets are willing to pony up the money necessary to lock up their ace for years to come. 

The Mets would be wise to come to an agreement with deGrom before Opening Day so this storyline can quickly be put to rest.

3. Which Jason Vargas will the Mets get in 2019?

2018 was a tale of two seasons for the veteran southpaw. In nine starts before the All-Star break, Vargas went 2-6 with an 8.60 ERA and 1.81 WHIP. In 11 starts over the second half of the season, the lefty looked significantly better, going 5-3 with a 3.81 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.

While many fans clamored for Van Wagenen to add another starter to shore up the back of the rotation, Vargas' second-half numbers were encouraging enough for the team to stand pat on that front. Will he be able to carry that late-season success into 2019?

Vargas will enter spring training as the team's fifth starter, but a rough camp could certainly open the door for guys such as Walker Lockett or Hector Santiago to take his spot in the rotation. The Mets don't need Vargas to put up All-Star numbers, but they would benefit greatly from him being able to pitch deeper into games.

The Mets have 8 million reasons to give Vargas the first shot at the fifth spot in the rotation, but the 36-year-old will have to show the team something during spring training to back up the front office's faith in him.

4. How will Jeff McNeil handle the outfield?

McNeil surprised just about everyone in the tri-state area with his strong campaign last year. Even though it was a limited sample size, the 26-year-old infielder looked downright impressive with the bat in his hands, hitting .329 in 63 games.

Following the signing of Lowrie, the Mets have put themselves in a peculiar position with McNeil. It's clear that he remains a part of the team's plans, as Van Wagenen refused to include him in the Robinson Cano-Edwin Diaz trade. But with the infield as crowded as it is, McNeil's only chance to receive regular game action is in the outfield.

While he did play some outfield in college, McNeil has primarily been used in the infield during his last six seasons in the Mets' farm system. How he adjusts to manning left field at the big-league level will determine how much playing time he receives in his second MLB season.

An outfield consisting of McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto won't be getting too many Gold Glove votes. But if the trio can continue to deliver at the plate, the Mets won't mind the subpar defense.

5. Is Amed Rosario ready to take the next step in his development?

After struggling mightily during the first two-thirds of the year, the Mets' young shortstop looked like a new man at the plate over the final two months of the season. Rosario hit .284 in 225 at-bats to close out 2018, showing signs of what made him one of baseball's top prospects just a short time ago.

Rosario's progression throughout last season was one of the few positives to come out of a disappointing 2018 campaign, but the Mets now need him to take another step forward if they truly want to compete for the NL East crown. The 23-year-old's plate discipline is still a big question mark, and his defense could use some polishing as well.

Rosario enters spring training as one of the most important pieces of New York's 2019 squad. If the young shortstop can improve both his bat and glove, then the sky is the limit for this Mets team. 

However, if he regresses in 2019, Rosario may play himself out of New York's plans moving forward.

Matt Citak is a web producer for WFAN Sports Radio. Check him out on Twitter at @MatthewCitak.