PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- So much for a bench job, or even a platoon. Upon outfielder Marlon Byrd's arrival at camp Friday, Mets manager Terry Collins called Byrd the early favorite to win the starting job in right field.
"If you're talking about a guy who's in this camp who has a chance to make a huge difference besides Lucas Duda, it might be Marlon Byrd," Collins said. "This guy was one of the best players in the National League not very long ago. If he's the same player he was in Chicago a couple of years ago, we might have found ourselves the right fielder. I know he's that kind of talent."
When the Mets signed Byrd to a Minor League deal earlier this month, he looked primed to compete with Andrew Brown for the fifth outfielder's job. At best, it seemed possible Byrd could slide into a right-field platoon with Mike Baxter.
But Collins is banking on Byrd's ability to recreate his 2009 season with the Rangers, when he hit 20 home runs as a starter. As recently as three years ago, Byrd was a productive everyday player in Chicago.
The situation, of course, has changed since then, which is why the Mets were able to snag Byrd on a Minor League deal that was not guaranteed. The veteran struggled at the plate in 2011, then served a 50-game suspension in '12, when he tested positive for Tamoxifen, a banned substance.
"I think you have to be an idiot to test positive," Byrd said, noting he took Tamoxifen for a medical condition called gynecomastia. "I was one of those idiots. It was something stupid. I was not trying to cheat. It was a banned substance. It was not a steroid. But again, you take something on the banned list, you're going to get caught."
With that issue in the past, Byrd has since turned his attention to making the Mets' Opening Day roster. He may have an advantage over others in camp, considering he is already in game shape -- Byrd is fresh off a Caribbean Series championship with his Winter Ball team, the Culiacan Tomateros.
"I thought it was one of the really good signs of the winter," Collins said. "He's under the radar a little bit, but he has a chance to make a huge impact with us."
Mets plan to use Mejia as starter upon arrival
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Still unsure of when Jenrry Mejia may arrive at camp, Mets manager Terry Collins reiterated Friday that Mejia will work as a starter once an issue with his visa is resolved and he rejoins the Mets.
"Is it going to be [in New York]? As of right now, with our staff, probably not," Collins said, "But he's certainly in the top seven. He's got to be in that mix."
Unlike fellow pitching prospect Jeurys Familia, who struggled as a starting pitcher last season, Mejia performed better as a starter than a reliever. It was enough for the Mets to spend the offseason trumpeting Mejia as a starter until -- or unless -- he proves ill-suited for the role.
But with Johan Santana, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Shaun Marcum and Dillon Gee all confirmed members of the rotation, Mejia will join Zack Wheeler in Triple-A Las Vegas to begin the year. If he pitches well, he could beat Wheeler to New York.
That is assuming he finds his way to Florida first. Delayed in the Dominican Republic, Mejia is still at least a week away from joining the Mets, according to Collins.
Former top prospect hopes health is in future
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Reese Havens is past the days of entering Spring Training expecting to be healthy. The former top prospect understands now that he will never quite be 100 percent.
"I'm going to have back problems," Havens said. "It's just, I've learned how to try to stay on top of my back with doing core [workouts] and stretching and stuff. That's just what I've got to do."
Do not mistake that reality check for a lack of confidence. Havens, 26, spent this offseason training at home in South Carolina for the first time since college, focusing on core strength while maintaining a regular regimen of baseball activities. He dabbled with Pilates.
A lesser player may have already retired, considering the endless string of core injuries that plagued Havens since the Mets drafted him four picks after Ike Davis in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. But the second baseman has hit well when healthy, posting a .978 OPS in '10 and an .828 mark in '11.
Only last year did his production suffer, when Havens' continued back issues resulted in a .691 OPS at Double-A Binghamton.
The second baseman is likely ticketed for Binghamton again to start this year, provided the Mets do not decide to push him to Triple-A Las Vegas -- a more age-appropriate level.
"I'm always optimistic coming in," Havens said. "Last year, I wasn't able to work out like I did this year and I had some doubts about where my back was at coming in. And I still know I'm going to have to stay on top of it. But just the quality offseason training that I had makes me a little more confident this year than in other years."