PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets trimmed their roster to 45 on Sunday, optioning 10 players to Minor League camp.
The team's top pitching prospect, right-hander Zack Wheeler, was among the cuts. The others were right-handers Gonzalez Germen, Collin McHugh, Elvin Ramirez and Hansel Robles, left-hander Darin Gorski, outfielders Juan Lagares and Cesar Puello, and infielders Reese Havens and Wilfredo Tovar.
Wheeler was not expected to make the Opening Day roster, and admits that an injured right oblique, which set him back the last two weeks, didn't help his case. He's expected to be joined in the Minors by d'Arnaud later this spring, and the two are likely to begin the year with Triple-A Las Vegas.
"Just keep working down there," Wheeler said of the message he got after a meeting with manager Terry Collins, general manager Sandy Alderson and pitching coach Dan Warthen. "Make us pull you up. We'll be looking for you soon."
Wheeler attributes demotion to oblique injury
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler was back on the mound, throwing batting practice on Sunday, tossing about 25 pitches to Mets Minor Leaguers.
The right-hander, the Mets' No. 2 prospect -- behind catcher Travis d'Arnaud -- and No. 8 overall has been battling a right oblique injury, an injury that caused him to be scratched from a Feb. 27 start.
Wheeler was one of 10 players sent to Minor League camp on Sunday, and he figures the setback is a significant reason.
"I don't think the injury helped," Wheeler said. "I really didn't think about it all that much. My mind-set was coming in and making the team."
Instead he'll likely start the season with Triple-A Las Vegas. He's expected to be joined there by d'Arnaud, who should still have a few more weeks in big league camp.
Wheeler's lone Grapefruit League outing was in the Mets' spring opener, against the Nationals on Feb. 23. He gave up a hit and a walk while striking out two in two innings of work.
"I'm not happy, but the injury cut me back just a little bit," he said. "I only got out there one time, that's what I'm kind of mad about. I wanted to sort of get out there and prove myself. But hopefully, I'll be up here soon."
"He did a lot," said manager Terry Collins. "We saw a great arm out of him. We know he's got the great arm. I thought he handled his situation in the clubhouse, [with the media]. I know he's disappointed. He's got every right to be. But he's going to get his chance. Just like Matt Harvey. When he gets here, he'll never look back."
Sunday was Wheeler's first action against hitters since straining the oblique while swinging in the batting cage. He faced three hitters, drawing only limited contact despite admitting he wasn't in his finest rhythm due to the recent inactivity.
"It felt good," he said. "But the timing was off a little with everything, stuff like that, so my pitches weren't crisp. Other than that, the oblique felt good. Everything else felt good."
Wheeler expects to see game action soon, likely when Minor League games start, and to up his pitch count by about 10 each outing, leaving him at about 70 once the season starts. And if he does rejoin the Mets, he says, the experience spent with the big league club in Port St. Lucie will go a long way.
"You know everybody around the locker room and stuff like that, and that definitely helps, so when you get up there, you sort of aren't just a deer in the headlights," he said. "But I think it's helped me being up here, preparing for the season a little bit."
Versatile Valdespin making his presence felt
JUPITER, Fla. -- Jordany Valdespin continues to make his presence felt, going 1-for-1 with an RBI single to center in the eighth inning of Sunday's 3-0 win over the Cardinals.
Valdespin is now hitting .360 this spring with two homers, five RBIs, a stolen base and five runs. He has struck out just twice.
"He's an aggressive guy," manager Terry Collins said. "He plays with enthusiasm, and he's got some excitement to him. But he swings and he's dangerous, because he's got some power."
Valdespin's versatility makes him a prime candidate to make the roster as a utility player. In a 94-game rookie season last year, the 25-year-old played second base and shortstop, and all three outfield positions. He was also 9-for-42 with nine runs, five homers and 10 RBIs as a pinch-hitter.
"Obviously, if you're going to be an extra player, the fact that you can play a lot of positions means a lot," Collins said. "And we saw it last year, the fact that he can come off the bench and be dangerous, also."
Valdespin, who hit .241 overall last year with a .710 OPS, said that the prospect of a utility role won't change his work or his preparation this spring.
"It's different, because the outfield is a different position, but I'm ready for any situation they want for me," Valdespin said. "I'm working hard, and last season I played second, played short, played outfield. I can do the role of the utility guy."