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Syndergaard shakes off jitters, starts next step

Acquired in Dickey deal, Mets prospect admittedly nervous at first bullpen session

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since Little League, Noah Syndergaard's parents have kept a cedar chest in their home outside Dallas, filling it with their son's used baseball jerseys.

There is one from Mansfield, Texas, where Syndergaard developed into a top Draft pick of the Blue Jays. There is one from Bluefield, W.Va., where Syndergaard honed his craft as an 18-year-old. There is one from Lansing, Mich., where he spent all of last summer before being traded to the Mets.

Soon there will be one from Port St. Lucie, where Syndergaard figures to open the 2013 season in the Florida State League. If things continue unfolding as the Syndergaards envision, new threads will follow from Binghamton, N.Y., then Las Vegas, then finally New York itself.

"Hopefully he'll appreciate it someday," Syndergaard's mother, Heidi, said of her collection.

The first step toward the next jersey began on Sunday for Syndergaard, who climbed atop a mound to throw a 30-pitch bullpen session in front of a handful of Minor League coaches and executives. His parents were there also, having made the roughly 18-hour drive with Syndergaard from Texas to Florida.

"My family was a big football family, but he really didn't do football," Heidi Syndergaard says. "He really didn't do basketball. It was always baseball."

Sunday, it might as well have been the first day of school. Syndergaard, rated No. 3 by among the Top 20 Mets prospects, was so nervous during his bullpen session that he "couldn't find the strike zone at all" during the first half of it, finally settling down to throw better pitches from there. Admittedly a shy personality in general, Syndergaard has grown accustomed to anxiety since the Mets acquired him as part of December's seven-player R.A. Dickey blockbuster.

"Just being traded for the Cy Young Award winner has put a little nerves on me," Syndergaard said, laughing as he recalled how tense he was during his first television interview upon being drafted.

The right-hander figures those nerves will vanish as soon as he begins pitching in games for his new organization, which is eager to see what he can do. Though the jewel prospect of the Dickey trade was Travis d'Arnaud, a Major League-ready catcher with a strong future both offensively and defensively, Syndergaard was another coveted chip for the Mets.

They consider him a high-upside pitcher with ace potential, which he flashed while going 8-5 with a 2.60 ERA for Class A Lansing last season. More impressive were his 122 strikeouts and 31 walks over 103 2/3 innings.

At the time of the trade, general manager Sandy Alderson classified Syndergaard as "a very high-ceiling power pitcher" with "tremendous upside potential." Featuring a power fastball, curve and change, Syndergaard could boast three plus pitches by the time he reaches the big leagues.

"I'm going to work as hard as I can to get my way up to the big leagues, get to New York," Syndergaard said.

The risk, of course, is no different than with any starting pitcher his age. Just 20 years old, Syndergaard could turn into a perennial All-Star, miss the big leagues altogether, or anything in between. Even if his development goes swimmingly, Syndergaard will not crack the big leagues before 2015.

For now, he will join Michael Fulmer, Domingo Tapia, Hansel Robles and others in a much-hyped Class A St. Lucie rotation. That bunch headlines an organization suddenly rich with high-ceiling arms, a collection that also includes older starters Zack Wheeler and Rafael Montero.

That's not to mention the talent already in Flushing. Though the Mets lost Dickey, their current rotation boasts another potential ace in Matt Harvey, a workhorse lefty in Jon Niese and a much-improved right-hander in Dillon Gee, all of whom are under team control deep into this decade. Syndergaard met Gee after throwing a bullpen session near his home this winter at the University of Texas-Arlington, calling him "a real swell guy."

The whole bunch looks "real swell" on paper for the Mets, though any scout knows not all of those pitchers will succeed. Some will flame out altogether, others may become relievers, still others could develop into mid-rotation starters. Nonetheless, the Mets are reserving some of their highest hopes for Syndergaard, knowing how much they gave up to acquire him.

The optimism goes both ways. Heidi Syndergaard showed up to camp on Sunday sporting a bright orange Mets shirt, while her husband, Brad, wore a Mets cap. Brad joked that his wardrobe is nothing but "leftover sweatshirts and jerseys," souvenirs from what has already been a successful career.

Roughly two dozen jerseys are stacked in the Syndergaards' cedar chest, proof of the youngster's rise from high school standout to supplemental-round Draft pick to blue-chip prospect. The Syndergaards are proud of the collection, even if they consider it far from complete.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
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