VIERA, Fla. -- Rafael Montero's unorthodox journey to the Mets began at age 17, when he decided to take baseball more seriously by moving to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, several hours from his hometown. As a result, though top Dominican free agents usually choose a big league suitor as soon as they turn 16, the Mets were able to nab Montero at age 20.
"In three years, I worked hard and then I signed with [the Mets]," Montero said through an interpreter.
He spent two more years breezing through New York's farm system, opening eyes with a 2.36 ERA, 110 strikeouts and 19 walks over two levels of Class A ball last summer. That earned Montero a trip to big league camp, where he made his debut Thursday with two innings of one-run ball against the Nationals.
Though Zack Wheeler is the most highly touted young pitcher around Mets camp this spring, team executives have been gushing about Montero. The right-hander considers his four-seam fastball his best pitch, with the ability to spot it to both sides of the plate. His slider also looked sharp on Thursday, generating swings and misses from right-handed hitters Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon.
"He has a game plan out there and he's got phenomenal stuff," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "He's got three great pitches."
Though he should start this season at Double-A Binghamton, Montero does not seem intimidated in a big league clubhouse. In his first group interview with New York reporters, the prospect used an interpreter to answer about a half-dozen questions.
He did not need any help when asked if he was nervous.
"Nawwww," Montero said, smiling.
Mets playing it safe with Wheeler
VIERA, Fla. -- A cautious plan remains in place for Mets prospect Zack Wheeler, who will almost certainly miss his next start with a strained right oblique. But Wheeler felt "better" on Thursday, according to manager Terry Collins, and should return to the mound soon.
Collins said that Wheeler tested the injury with a series of motion exercises on Thursday morning without any pain. The Mets figure they will "have a real good read on where he's at" within three to five days, according to Collins, at which point Wheeler will probably throw a bullpen session.
The right-hander suffered a mild oblique strain during pitchers' batting practice on Wednesday, prompting the Mets to scratch him from his second Grapefruit League start. He is still unofficially slated to start Opening Day for Triple-A Las Vegas.
Collins expects Johan to take ball on Opening Day
VIERA, Fla. -- Mets left-hander Johan Santana remains on target to make his Grapefruit League debut around March 10, according to manager Terry Collins, keeping him on track to pitch Opening Day at Citi Field.
Santana plans to continue throwing at the Mets' Spring Training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., with the goal of playing catch at 120 feet. Once he achieves that, he should throw from a mound for the first time since the Mets backed off his throwing program in the early days of spring.
The Mets named Santana their Opening Day starter on the first official day of camp, before his latest issues arose. He officially finished last season on the disabled list with lower back inflammation, but he was also battling an ankle injury and left arm fatigue.
If Santana is not ready to pitch on Opening Day, Collins said there are multiple options -- and multiple opinions within the organization -- on who should assume the vacant spot in the rotation. Jeremy Hefner and Collin McHugh appear to be the leading candidates, with Jon Niese the obvious choice to start in Santana's place on April 1.
Mets' Feliciano to return with heart monitor
VIERA, Fla. -- Doctors have cleared Mets lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano to resume full baseball activities, though Feliciano will wear a heart monitor on the field.
Feliciano has been diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called left ventricular noncompaction, according to a news release distributed by his agency.
"If his condition was serious, where the experts had determined for him not to play baseball anymore, I am sure he would not return to the mound," Feliciano's agent, Melvin Roman, said in a statement.
Feliciano said his condition will "not keep me up at night," while Mets manager Terry Collins said the simple fact that he is cleared to pitch is a great sign. The Mets plan to work Feliciano back into their pitching schedule as soon as he is ready, reestablishing him as a contender for a bullpen role.
The left-hander's absence from the first week of Grapefruit League games should not hurt his ability to make the team, with a full month of exhibitions remaining. But Feliciano still must beat out Robert Carson, Darin Gorski, Scott Rice and Aaron Laffey for what appears to be one open spot behind incumbent lefty reliever Josh Edgin.
A member of the Mets from 2002-04 and 2006-10, Feliciano set the franchise record for appearances with 92 in '10. He signed a two-year deal with the Yankees that offseason but never pitched for them, undergoing left shoulder surgery in early 2011. Feliciano signed a Minor League deal with the Mets this winter worth $1 million if he makes the big league club.
Mets announce Concert Series lineup
VIERA, Fla. -- Foreigner (June 14), Nas (July 19), O.A.R. (Aug. 2) and Third Eye Blind (Aug. 23) will headline the 2013 Mets Concert Series at Citi Field, the team announced on Thursday.
The Friday night performances will begin approximately 20 minutes after the conclusion of each game from an outfield stage behind second base. Admission to each concert is included in the price of the game tickets, which go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. on Mets.com.
The Mets launched their Concert Series last summer with performances by REO Speedwagon, Daughtry and MercyMe.