© 2013 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

2/7/2013 10:00 P.M. ET

Mets eye competitive season, bright future

Top prospects provide optimism as team looks to contend in tough NL East

NEW YORK -- The Mets may very well arrive at Spring Training with less sheer talent than they possessed a year ago, when they finished in fourth place for a fourth consecutive season.

But they have reason to arrive with significantly more optimism.

Spring Training
Spring Training links

Unlike last year, when the Mets came to camp with unanswered financial problems and little hope for more than a middle-of-the-pack finish, this year they are arriving in Florida with untapped potential -- led by two of the best overall prospects in baseball. Pitchers and catchers officially must report by Monday, with position players arriving by the end of the week.

It's an interesting bunch, and they may not be ready to compete for the playoffs yet. But the Mets are at least in position to start making things interesting.

"We're getting to the point where we can be in the mix," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "If you look at the fundamental composition of our team, it wouldn't take more than a couple of moves to change the whole perception of things. So I don't want anybody to believe that this is a long-term project that has no possible realization anytime soon. We're at the point where we can make significant improvement in a hurry."

That's not to say the Mets can't make a dark-horse run in 2013. They held their own for half of last season before falling flat in late July, and the club still has enough rotation depth to compete nightly in what may be the best division in baseball.

It's just that everything continues to funnel toward the future for the Mets. By midsummer, top prospects Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud should join standout Matt Harvey in Flushing. David Wright is signed on to man third base for the rest of the decade, with Jon Niese highlighting a bright young rotation.

Talent is suddenly arriving in gobs. So is optimism. The Mets only hope that wins will follow.

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 11

Full squad reports

Feb. 17

First Spring Training game

Home vs. Nationals, Feb. 23 at 12:10 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Home vs. Padres, April 1 at 1:10 p.m. ET

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. What will the Opening Day outfield look like?
The Mets' foremost Hot Stove need went all but unaddressed. Desperate for any sort of outfield pop, the team added Collin Cowgill via trade, then signed Andrew Brown and Marlon Byrd to Minor League contracts -- not exactly the type of makeover fans were looking for. Though Michael Bourn remains a free agent, the Mets are long shots to acquire his services, forcing them to consider a starting outfield of Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter. Cowgill should also see plenty of plate appearances as a platoon partner for Nieuwenhuis.

2. Will Wright become the franchise's next captain?
When the Mets re-signed one of the most popular players in team history to a new eight-year contract, it seemed only natural that they would also name him captain. Manager Terry Collins opted to put that decision off until Spring Training, saying he will only put a "C" on Wright's jersey if his teammates request it. That's a good bet to happen, possibly sooner rather than later.

3. To what extent will d'Arnaud and Wheeler tempt the Mets?
It would take something unforeseen for d'Arnaud and Wheeler, two of the top 10 prospects in baseball, to crack the Opening Day roster -- but both of them may be big league ready now. From a public relations standpoint, it will be difficult to justify sending those two to the Minors if they prove to be two of the best overall players in camp. The Mets will need to hold firm to their philosophies and absorb whatever criticism comes.

2012 record
74-88, fourth in the National League East

Projected batting order
1. SS Ruben Tejada:
  .289 BA, .333 OBP, .351 SLG, 1 HR, 25 RBIs in 2012
2. 2B Daniel Murphy:
  .291 BA, .332 OBP, .403 SLG, 6 HR, 65 RBIs in 2012
3. 3B David Wright:
  .306 BA, .391 OBP, .492 SLG, 21 HR, 93 RBIs in 2012
4. 1B Ike Davis:
  .227 BA, .308 OBP, .462 SLG, 32 HR, 90 RBIs in 2012
5. OF Lucas Duda:
  .239 BA, .329 OBP, .389 SLG, 15 HR, 57 RBIs in 2012
6. C John Buck:
  .192 BA, .297 OBP, .347 SLG, 12 HR, 41 RBIs in 2012
7. OF Mike Baxter:
  .263 BA, .365 OBP, .413 SLG, 3 HR, 17 RBIs in 2012
8. OF Collin Cowgill:
  .269 BA, .336 OBP, .317 SLG, 1 HR, 9 RBIs in 2012

Projected rotation
1. LHP Johan Santana, 6-9, 4.85 ERA in 2012
2. LHP Jon Niese, 13-9, 3.40 ERA in 2012
3. RHP Matt Harvey, 3-5, 2.73 ERA in 2012
4. RHP Shaun Marcum, 7-4, 3.70 ERA in 2012
5. RHP Dillon Gee, 6-7, 4.10 ERA in 2012

Projected bullpen
Closer: Frank Francisco, 23/26 saves, 5.53 ERA in 2012
RH setup man: Bobby Parnell, 2.49 ERA in 2012
LH setup man: Pedro Feliciano, did not pitch in 2012

The new guys
RHP Marcum: Officially R.A. Dickey's replacement in the rotation, Marcum was the first to admit that he will not be able to replace the Cy Young Award winner's production. But Marcum does believe he is fully healthy for the first time since 2011, and he has set a goal of reaching 200 quality innings. The Mets will be a much better team if he does.

RHP Brandon Lyon: The Mets have yet to officially sign Lyon, but expect to complete a deal soon. The former closer should give them some stability at the back of their bullpen, perhaps even taking over ninth-inning duties from the oft-injured Frank Francisco.

OF Cowgill: Cowgill came to the Mets early in the offseason in an under-the-radar trade that could significantly impact the offense. Capable of playing any outfield position, Cowgill figures to platoon regularly with Nieuwenhuis in center, also regularly spelling Duda in left. Cowgill should start every time a left-handed pitcher takes the mound.

Brandon Hicks: Hicks will take over the backup shortstop job vacated by Ronny Cedeno. With Tejada and Murphy expected to handle the lion's share of innings at the middle infield positions, don't expect Hicks to see much regular work unless injuries hit.

Prospects to watch
C d'Arnaud: The primary piece the Mets acquired for Dickey, d'Arnaud instantly became one of the top-rated position player prospects in franchise history. Though he is almost certain to start out the year in Triple-A, d'Arnaud should make a big league impact before long. He is billed as a strong all-around catcher with the ability to hit for both average and power.

RHP Wheeler: Another standout prospect, Wheeler is also one of the organization's most highly-touted young pitchers ever. He enters this season on the same track that Harvey traveled a year ago, meaning he should reach the Majors sometime around the All-Star break. Wheeler's ceiling? Future ace.

INF Wilmer Flores: Flores finally began turning his potential into production in 2012, posting strong enough numbers to reach Double-A for the first time. He could begin knocking on the door to the big leagues this time around, though Flores first needs to find a position. Formerly a shortstop, he expects to split time between second and third base in '13.

RHP Noah Syndergaard: One of the secondary pieces the Mets received for Dickey, Syndergaard, like Wheeler, boasts ace potential. But he is much farther away from the big leagues, slated to begin this season at Class A St. Lucie. Another strong season would elevate Syndergaard into the upper echelon of big league prospects.

On the rebound
LHP Santana: The Mets say Santana is fully healthy and ready to give them a full workload of 30-plus starts in 2013. There are no guarantees of quality, of course, considering Santana went 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA following his June 1 no-hitter. But if he is indeed healthy, Santana has a reasonable chance to resemble the pitcher he was from Opening Day through his no-no (3-2, 2.38 ERA).

RHP Gee: Though Gee has not pitched since undergoing emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his right shoulder in July, he says he is fully healthy and has been throwing since before the holidays. That's good news for a Mets team that could use his stability at the back of their rotation. Gee was enjoying a breakout season prior to his injury.

RHP Francisco: Had Francisco underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow right after the season, Opening Day might never have been an issue. Instead, he went under the knife in December and his health is still a question. As a result, Francisco appears to be losing his grip on the closer's job before Spring Training even begins.

OF Nieuwenhuis: Nieuwenhuis began his rookie season on fire, fell into a massive slump by midseason and earned a demotion to the Minors when it became clear that his two most glaring issues -- a high strikeout rate and an inability to hit lefties -- were not disappearing. Shortly thereafter he tore the plantar fascia in his right foot and underwent surgery. And yet, despite all that adversity, the Opening Day center field job remains his to lose.

C Buck: He may merely be keeping the seat warm for d'Arnaud, but Buck is also just two seasons removed from a 20-homer campaign with the Blue Jays. Even a fraction of that production would represent an upgrade over what Josh Thole gave the Mets in 2012.

Classic departures
3B Wright: One of Team USA's most valuable players in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Wright will return for another go as the team's starting third baseman in 2013. He is the only Mets player expected to participate in this year's Classic.

Long gone
RHP R.A. Dickey: This one hurts. If the Mets are going to have any designs on competing for a Wild Card spot in 2013, they will need to figure out some way to replace the NL's best starting pitcher. Dickey led the Mets in just about every major pitching category last season, prompting the Mets to sell high to the Blue Jays in a seven-player trade.

RHP Mike Pelfrey: The Mets essentially have already played a full season without Pelfrey, losing their former No. 1 starter to Tommy John surgery last April. They ultimately non-tendered him over the winter and watched him latch on in Minnesota, where Pelfrey will look to salvage the back half of his career.

RHP Jon Rauch: Though Rauch struggled through one dreadful stretch last June, he ranked among New York's more reliable relievers over the balance of the summer. Regardless, the Mets did not pursue him through free agency, and Rauch is now a Marlin.

RHP Ramon Ramirez: Ramirez came to the Mets along with Andres Torres last winter, in the trade that sent Angel Pagan to the Giants. The two sides have parted ways after one unproductive season, with Ramirez moving back to San Francisco as a free agent.

C Josh Thole: The Mets loved Thole's work ethic and valued his ability to catch the knuckleball. But Thole's offensive production was not big league caliber, so they had no qualms shipping him (and backup Mike Nickeas) to Toronto as part of the Dickey trade. The Mets will turn to Buck and Anthony Recker as their catchers in 2013, at least until d'Arnaud is ready to contribute.

OF Scott Hairston: Hairston swatted 20 homers for the Mets in 2012, providing them with some much-needed pop from the right side of the plate. But while New York held out hope of acquiring a big-name outfielder late in the offseason, Hairston moved on to the Cubs on a two-year deal.

OF Jason Bay: Faced with the prospect of one more roller-coaster year, the Mets and Bay struck a deal to terminate the embattled outfielder's contract, with Bay deferring most of his salary in exchange for the right to sign elsewhere. Elsewhere, it turned out, was Seattle, where Bay will look to resurrect his career.

OF Torres: While injuries and inconsistency ravaged Torres' season, Pagan blossomed into a productive World Series winner in San Francisco. Shortly afterward the Mets non-tendered Torres, who subsequently rejoined the Giants in a bid to become Pagan's backup.

SS Ronny Cedeno: Following a forgettable stint as Tejada's backup in 2012, Cedeno sought a starting shortstop job on the open market. He may not have found it, but he moved on anyway, signing a one-year deal with the Cardinals.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.