51s home opener gives Las Vegas fans a chance to meet the Mets

“Meet the Mets

“Meet the Mets

“Step right up and greet the Mets

“Bring your kiddies

“Bring your wife

“Guaranteed to have the time of your life

“Because the Mets are really sockin’ the ball

“Knockin’ those home runs over the wall

“East Side, West Side

“Ev’ry body’s comin’ down

“To meet the M-E-T-S Mets

“Of New York town.”

— Lyrics from “Meet the Mets”

fight song, written in 1961

Other than fiery 51s manager Wally Backman — a member of the 1986 New York Mets title team — Las Vegas’ roster likely remains largely a mystery to most fans eight games into its first season as the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.

With the 51s’ home opener scheduled for today at Cashman Field against Colorado Springs, it’s time to — as New York’s popular original peppy anthem states — meet the Mets’ (top farm team).

“We’re going to have some success this year,” Backman said. “As long as we keep our core of players intact, we’re going to have a heck of a ballclub.”

Las Vegas (5-3) — which partnered with New York after the Toronto Blue Jays bolted for Buffalo after four seasons here — features two of baseball’s top eight prospects, as rated by mlb.com, in catcher Travis d’Arnaud (No. 6) and right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler (No. 8).

The 51s feature four of the Mets’ top 10 prospects overall — d’Arnaud (No. 1), Wheeler (No. 2), right-hander Jeurys Familia (No. 5) and second baseman Wilmer Flores (No. 7) — and two other promising pitchers in left-hander Robert Carson and right-hander Collin McHugh.

“Our strength is our power offensively, and pitching is definitely one of the organization’s strengths,” Backman said. “What we lack is speed.”

While Wheeler and McHugh are in Las Vegas’ starting rotation, Carson and Familia are former starters slated to serve as the team’s setup man and closer, respectively.

“Both Carson and (Familia) have got power arms. They’re going to be good big league pitchers at some point,” Backman said. “It’s just a matter of what happens at the major league level, because Carson has already showed some success up there, and Familia pitched real well in spring training.”

Familia, who has reached 99 mph with his fastball, made his major league debut last year with the Mets, striking out 10 in 12 1/3 innings.

Carson also made his big league debut last season for New York, appearing in 17 games over three separate stints.

Wheeler, who is slated to start Sunday, is 0-1 with a 3.12 ERA through two starts this season. He has allowed three earned runs on 11 hits in 8 2/3 innings, with six walks and nine strikeouts.

After overcoming a strained oblique muscle in spring training, Backman said Wheeler has struggled with a blister on his throwing hand early on.

“He pitched through it,” Backman said. “But he’s going to be fine.”

Following Wheeler in the rotation are Chris Schwinden, McHugh, Carlos Torres and left-hander Darin Gorski.

“We’ve got five solid starters. Most of our guys are strike-throwers,” Backman said. “Wheeler is the power arm out of the group, and the other guys are pitchers who locate their pitches well.”

First baseman Josh Satin hit safely in the 51s’ first eight games, batting a team-leading .500 with three home runs and nine RBIs.

Right fielder Andrew Brown, who compiled a combined 29 homers and 109 RBIs last season for Colorado Springs and the Rockies, is batting .400 with a team-leading 10 RBIs.

Backman expects Brown, Flores, d’Arnaud and Zach Lutz to produce plenty of long balls for Las Vegas this year.

“We have an exceptional amount of power,” he said. “Brown hit (29) last year and Lutz will probably hit 30 homers. Flores is another guy expected to hit some homers, and d’Arnaud, too. He’s the real deal. We haven’t shown it yet, but power is going to be there for us.”

D’Arnaud hit .333 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs in 67 games last season for the 51s. Flores batted a combined .300 with 18 homers and 75 RBIs in 130 games for Double-A Binghamton and Class-A St. Lucie.

While Triple A is about development as much, if not more, than winning, Backman believes the two are one and the same.

“What I try to instill in players is to hate to lose more than you like to win,” he said. “If you can take that out on the field with you on a regular basis, it’s going to make you compete at a top level.”

Backman definitely doesn’t like to lose, and his passion for the game often leads to him getting ejected.

“I went 60 games in a row last year (without getting ejected). That was my record,” he said, grinning. “I want to win, and I expect my players to go out and give me 100 percent. Ninety percent of the times I’ve been thrown out of games is just because I’ve got my players’ backs at all times.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

■ WINNING/LOSING PITCHER: 51s, Collin McHugh (2-0); Grizzlies, Andrew Kown (0-1)
■ HIGHLIGHTS: At Fresno, Calif., Zach Lutz’s first home run in a 51s uniform was a memorable one. The left fielder hit a grand slam with two out in the first to cap a five-run inning as Las Vegas (5-3) salvaged a split of the four-game series with the Grizzlies (4-4). ... Juan Lagares led off the game with a homer, his first of the season, and the 51s took off from there, adding four runs in the second and three in the third. ... Fresno committed four errors in the second, leading to three unearned runs. ... Andrew Brown led a 16-hit attack by going 4-for-5 with three runs and two RBIs for Las Vegas, which got at least one hit from the first seven batters in the starting lineup. Josh Satin had two of them in three at-bats and is hitting .500 this season. He has hit safely in all eight games. ... That support was more than enough for McHugh, who allowed two runs on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings. ... The 51s will host their 31st home opener today, meeting the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, at Cashman Field. Las Vegas is 16-14 in home openers. ... The Sky Sox feature two of the Rockies’ top 10 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, in third baseman Nolan Arenado (No. 1) and corner infielder Ryan Wheeler (No. 10). ... Las Vegas also will host the Sacramento River Cats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, from Tuesday through Friday. ... Sacramento features three of Oakland’s top 10 prospects in outfielder Michael Choice (No. 2), right-hander Sonny Gray (No. 5) and infielder Grant Green (No. 8). ... The 51s have replaced the red numerals on their uniforms with orange ones to recognize the team’s new affiliation with the New York Mets, but Las Vegas has no plans to change its nickname or logo.
■ NEXT: Sky Sox (TBA) at 51s (RHP Carlos Torres, 0-0, 3.18), 7:05 p.m. today, KBAD-AM (920)