Tag: ron paulino

2011 Evaluation: Mike Nickeas

It took Mike Nickeas a long time to reach MLB, but when he finally did, he proved capable if unspectacular.

The Canadian-born catcher spent seven years in the minors before grabbing a cup of coffee with the Mets in September 2010. Thanks to visa problems, injuries, and the end of a drug suspension for Ronny Paulino, Nickeas was able to parlay that coffee klatch into a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster in 2011.

But it wasn’t all because of Paulino’s problems that Nickeas made the big club; the career minor leaguer proved to be a reliable and solid “catch and throw guy” who seemed to have a strong rapport with the Mets pitching staff.

Nickeas was sent to AAA after Paulino finally joined the Mets, and didn’t return until August. While serving as a backup in both Buffalo and Flushing, Nickeas showed very little offensively, but definitely established himself as a fine handler of pitchers and displayed above-average defensive skills. From the perspective of a professional catching instructor, I don’t love his technique, but he gets the job done better than most and he appears to be the catcher that every Mets pitcher wants to throw to — a factor difficult to quantify, but trust me, is a huge asset. Nickeas was no Charlie O’Brien back there, but he was a huge upgrade over Josh Thole and a few ticks better than Paulino. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough defense to overcome his meager offense; his dramatic homer in game 19 was the highlight and peak of his season.

2012 Projection

As much as I like Mike Nickeas, I was completely stunned that the Mets included him on the offseason 40-man roster; did they really think that another team would jump at the chance to pick a 29-year-old, .180-hitting, third-string catcher in the Rule 5 Draft? Seems to me to be a waste of a roster spot, since there are at least two dozen catchers exactly like him throughout AAA. That’s not to say I’m upset; in fact, I’m pleased to know that Nickeas is likely to be in Port St. Lucie come February, and presumably part of the organization’s catching depth in 2012. My guess is he’ll be exactly what he was in ’11: a defensive-minded, backup backstop who can be shuffled between AAA and the bigs as necessary. And within the next 3-5 years, we may see Nickeas move into a minor-league managing post — perhaps in preparation toward a more successful MLB career.

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What If Pelfrey Pitches Well Tonight?

After seeing him struggle mightily in his first four starts of the season, we as Mets fans naturally would like to see Mike Pelfrey pitch well for a change.

However, if he does pitch well, there could be a drama brewing behind the scenes.

Because tonight, Mike Nickeas gets another start behind the plate. It could be argued that he’s in the lineup because Arizona starter Joe Saunders is a lefty, and Josh Thole struggles against lefties. Fair point.

Additionally, Nickeas hit his first MLB homer last night, and seems to be swinging the bat well. Again, fair point.

Also, there is the idea that the Mets just won for the first time in a week, so why mess with success? Trot out that same lineup again if you can.

All good points, I’m sure you agree. But, there’s another less-obvious reason why Nickeas should be getting the start, and might be getting another start five days from now: his ability to communicate.

Those who watched last night’s win no doubt noticed that Chris Capuano pitched well, and rarely shook off Nickeas — the two had a good rapport, and Capuano was apparently pleased with Nickeas’ game calling. In contrast, Thole and Pelfrey have had some trouble being “on the same page” — to the point where Pelfrey all but criticized Thole’s pitch selections. One must wonder: if there was a righthander on the mound for Arizona tonight, and Nickeas hadn’t hit his first big-league homer, would Nickeas still be getting the start? More importantly, if Pelfrey goes out and pitches six or seven strong innings, and Nickeas gains his trust, what does that mean for Josh Thole?

Nickeas caught Pelfrey in his last start against Atlanta, and the end result wasn’t anything to write home about — 5 innings, 11 hits, one walk, 4 earned runs. Despite the high hit total, I saw a mild improvement in the consistency of his mechanics and in turn, his command — might that have been because he was less concerned with the fingers thrown down by Nickeas and therefore able to focus on repeating his delivery? I could be reaching, but it’s a possibility.

Considering how important Pelfrey is to the Mets’ rotation, it will be interesting to see what transpires tonight. If Pelfrey struggles again, I would think that the Mets consider sending him to the bullpen — or the minors — to work on things when Chris Young comes off the DL. If Big Pelf has a strong outing, Mike Nickeas may find himself with another start behind the plate in five days — regardless of who pitches for the opposition. In turn, Ronny Paulino may be held back in rehab for another day or so.

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Paulino In, F-Mart Out

Finally, Ronny Paulino has arrived in Port St. Lucie; he was held up with visa issues related to his failed PEDs test from last year. He spoke about his delay upon arrival, and manager Terry Collins said he would “push the envelope” to get Paulino ready as quickly as possible. Collins also made it clear that Paulino would be Josh Thole’s backup:

“He’s a very good offensive player, who is going to spell Josh and hopefully be productive at a position where we want to give Josh some time off,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.

This isn’t terribly surprising; that was pretty much the plan from the get-go. But Paulino’s delayed entry into the US obviously squashed any possibility of his hope to unseat Thole from the starting role. After signing with the Mets in December, Paulino had told Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes,

“I’m training to fight for the position,” Paulino said. “No one has a regular job yet.”

I’m interested to see what kind of shape he’s in; one of the reasons Paulino has never quite reached his potential has been because he’s chronically overweight. In fact, the reason he was suspended for 50 games is because the PED he was caught using was a diet pill.

While Paulino entered the Mets MLB camp, eleven others exited: Fernando Martinez, Ruben Tejada, Josh Stinson, Tobi Stoner, Manny Alvarez, John Lujan, Armando Rodriguez, Zach Lutz, Jordany Valdespin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Kai Gronauer were all assigned to minor-league camp. No shocking news here, as none of these youngsters were expected to compete for a spot on the 25-man roster. Interesting, though, that F-Mart was sent down while Lucas Duda stays with the big club. That move could be interpreted that Duda is ahead of Martinez in terms of how the Mets rank their prospects. I’m not so sure. Rather, I wonder if the Mets see Martinez as having more value to the team long-term, and prefer to make certain he gets everyday reps in AAA to develop his skills rather than play randomly at the MLB level as Carlos Beltran struggles with his health. Of course it doesn’t mean that Duda is going to make the team; rather, it means that the Mets believe Duda is closer to his ceiling than Martinez — and if, in fact, he does make the 25-man roster as a fourth outfielder, playing sparingly off the bench won’t necessarily impede his development.

Same goes with Ruben Tejada and Jordany Valdespin, who for all we know could be the Mets’ starting middle infielders in 2012. Both are talented, but both need more time in the minors to hone their skills. It makes more sense to get them constant reps in minor league camp, and also allows the team to give Brad Emaus, Dan Murphy, and Justin Turner more opportunities to push Luis Castillo off the roster.

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Mets Game 6: Loss to Marlins

Marlins 2 Mets 1

Johan Santana and Josh Johnson hooked up in a good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel, and at the end, Johnson was the one left standing.

In a remarkably quick, 2 hour, 4-minute game, Johnson emerged as the victor and owner of MLB’s first complete game, dispatching of the Mets hitters through the use of a 96-MPH fastball and a filthy slider.

Santana, meanwhile, was no slouch, striking out 13 hitters and allowing only three hits and one walk. Unfortunately, he also allowed two runs — both unearned — and that was the difference in the ballgame.

The Marlins’ two runs came with two outs in the bottom of the second, when Danny Murphy dropped a Cody Ross fly ball, allowing Jeremy Hermida to score. Ronny Paulino followed with another single to score Ross.

The Mets’ lone run came in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, when Carlos Beltran singled up the middle to drive in Carlos Delgado, who had doubled. Delgado’s double came after what looked like a called third strike — which would’ve ended the game — but home plate umpire Bob Davidson called it a ball.

Game Notes

Marlins starter Josh Johnson did not allow a hit until Luis Castillo managed a broken-bat blooper in the sixth, and he threw a first-pitch strike to 19 consecutive hitters. His 101st pitch of the ballgame was clocked at 98 MPH. He was downright nasty all day.

It almost looked as if Johan made the decision to take it upon himself to retire the Fish on his own after Murphy’s error. After the error, Santana struck out 8 of the next 13 hitters he faced.

David Wright has collected a base hit in every game this year.

Ryan Church also has a hit in every game, as he hit yet another double. He now has 6 and is batting .478.

Kevin Burkhardt spoke about Ramon Castro’s offseason running program, which was a daily, intensive routine. Castro ran every single day and dropped a grand total of 15 pounds … I hope that means he gained some muscle weight, because he looks like the kind of guy who could shed more weight than that over four months of training. Burkhardt said he wasn’t sure why Castro decided to partake in such a regimen in this past particular offseason — apparently he’s never worked out hard in the winter months before. Here’s a hint, Kevin: contract year.

Cameron Maybin might strike out 200 times this year. He does look to have a world of talent, though. The Fish might strike out 1500 times as a team before it’s all said and done.

Not much to say about this game, other than the Mets ran into a very hot pitcher. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap, as they say.

Next Mets Game

The Mets play their first-ever regular season game at Citi Field against the San Diego Padres on Monday night at 7:10 PM. Mike Pelfrey takes the ball against 32-year-old Mexican League journeyman Walter Silva. Tom Seaver throws out the ceremonial first pitch to Mike Piazza. Apparently Sandy Koufax and Joe Pignatano were unavailable.

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