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Smith leads Mets' dark-horse roster candidates

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- No longer the young team they used to be, the Mets don't have many roster spots up for grabs this spring. Their most compelling position battle, in the rotation, features a host of names fans already know well: Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and others. A strong spring could land any number of them on the roster.

But that does not mean the rest of the 55 players in big league camp have no chance to make the club. With Wheeler set to start the Mets' Grapefruit League opener on Friday in a 1:10 p.m. ET game against the Braves, here's a look at some of the dark horses competing for roster spots in Port St. Lucie.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- No longer the young team they used to be, the Mets don't have many roster spots up for grabs this spring. Their most compelling position battle, in the rotation, features a host of names fans already know well: Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and others. A strong spring could land any number of them on the roster.

But that does not mean the rest of the 55 players in big league camp have no chance to make the club. With Wheeler set to start the Mets' Grapefruit League opener on Friday in a 1:10 p.m. ET game against the Braves, here's a look at some of the dark horses competing for roster spots in Port St. Lucie.

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Dominic Smith
The Mets' acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez likely means Smith will start the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, where he posted a .905 OPS in 114 games last season. But Smith reported to Spring Training in tremendous shape. With a successful camp, he could at least make the Mets think twice about sending him down.

It appears the Mets will most likely carry eight relievers and a four-man bench on their Opening Day roster, as they did for much of last season. But if they feel Smith has proven enough to be a part of the mix, they could carry him as a 13th hitter to split time with Gonzalez -- or just part ways with Gonzalez, whom they are paying the league minimum, altogether.

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Matt Purke
Flu-like symptoms sidelined Purke for the first few days of camp, but he's back now, prepared to compete for a spot. A former first-round Draft pick of the Rangers, and later a top prospect in the Nationals' organization, Purke has appeared in just 12 big league games over six professional seasons. But with Josh Smoker out of the picture, Purke and P.J. Conlon are the only lefties, besides Jerry Blevins, with a chance to crack the Opening Day bullpen.

Conlon has yet to pitch above Double-A Binghamton, making Purke the better bet to make a run at the roster.

"You're really trying to find a place where you can stick, find a place where you can compete," Purke said of why he signed with the Mets. "For me, it was basically trying to find a place where I would have an opportunity to be able to be an asset. We looked at this place and really felt that there was a good chance for me to come in and compete for a spot."

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Rafael Montero
Montero is actually more of a favorite than a dark horse, simply because he is out of Minor League options. Over the past month, the Mets designated four players for assignment and lost three of them -- Chasen Bradford, Smoker and Matt Reynolds -- to waiver transactions, all while keeping Montero protected. They wouldn't have done that if they planned on cutting Montero as soon as camp breaks.

To the contrary, Mets officials believe Montero was unlucky last season, as evidenced by his .366 opponents' batting average on balls in play. He could serve as either a long or short option in the Mets' bullpen.

Video: DiComo on Mets signing Lobaton to Minor League deal

Jose Lobaton
This one would almost certainly require an injury to happen. But the Mets signed Lobaton to a Minor League deal this spring because they felt, if nothing else, he would be a strong mentor for prospect Tomas Nido at Triple-A Las Vegas.

At the big league level, the Mets hope Travis d'Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki can continue to split time successfully, as they did last last season. But if one of them sustains an injury in camp, Lobaton -- a popular clubhouse presence over the past four years in Washington -- would have a chance to replace him.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Jose Lobaton, Rafael Montero, Matt Purke, Dominic Smith