PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The first evidence of Matt Harvey's fallibility surfaced shortly after noon on Friday, when Harvey ripped a patch of skin off his right thumb. The injury, nothing major, occurred while a team comprised mostly of Minor Leaguers was busy tagging Harvey for two singles, a double and a walk in less than two innings.
It was the first time at Mets camp that Harvey appeared to be anything other than invincible. Which is just fine for now, for an organization leaning so heavily on pitchers Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Zack Wheeler to usher in a new era of consistently competitive baseball in Flushing. For now, development is the buzzword in Mets camp. Invincibility can wait.
"Guys with that kind of talent," said pitcher Miguel Batista, who has been working closely with Familia, "if they can get the knowledge, it's unthinkable what they can do."
That is largely why several hundred people bustled into Digital Domain Park on Friday for an otherwise meaningless intrasquad game. Many wanted to see Harvey record his five outs and Familia pitch two scoreless innings, giving the big-league staff its most tangible evidence of their talents to date. As those two pitched, much of the Mets' front office sat in the section directly behind home plate, chatting amongst themselves as they watched the future. Or what they hope will be the future.
Though the Mets boast plenty of other intriguing prospects in a rapidly improving farm system, much of general manager Sandy Alderson's long-term plan revolves around the core of Harvey, Wheeler and Familia, three of the most highly-rated pitchers in the orginization. The Mets are banking on at least one or two of them to develop into stars, while holding out hope that all three can reach that level.
"There's no reason for them to be overwhelmed here," vice president of scouting and player development Paul DePodesta said of Harvey and Familia in particular, who are currently in Major League camp. "Their stuff plays here, there's no question."
The most polished of the three may be Familia, whose bounce-back 2011 season shot him to the cusp of the Major Leagues. Notably refined for a player who signed as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic less than five years ago, Familia dominated Class A St. Lucie last season before striking out more than a batter per inning at Double-A Binghamton.
With batters still adjusting to live pitching at this point in Spring Training, such abilities can be downright unfair. After the Mets completed their intrasquad game, Daniel Murphy began quizzing Kirk Nieuwenhuis about his experience facing Familia.
"Better you than me facing that monster on Day 1," Murphy quipped.
For one day at least, hitters had an easier time with Harvey, who also buzzed through St. Lucie last year before finishing the summer strong at Binghamton. Despite his struggles on Friday, Harvey showed flashes of his talent, pitching in the mid-90s and punching out Josh Satin on one particularly devilish changeup.
"I know what I have to work on to get better," Harvey said afterward, downplaying an injury that should not cost him any time. "It's something that I couldn't do in the bullpen, so today was perfect."
Last on the list of hopefuls is Wheeler, the return haul in the trade that sent Carlos Beltran to the Giants. Because Wheeler is a year younger and a year behind Harvey and Familia in his development, he is spending this spring in Minor League camp. But Wheeler may be the most talented of the bunch, and is a good bet to join those two at Binghamton to start the season.
"If those three guys are together, someone's going to be very lucky," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Someone's going to enjoy watching them."
For now, the Mets want nothing more than for Harvey and Familia to grow comfortable in big league camp, knowing both are strong bets to reach New York at some point this summer.
Not two weeks into Spring Training, they already seem comfortable. Harvey spends many of his mornings bouncing from locker to locker, soaking up insight from veterans on the club. His comportment is that of a big leaguer, pestering coaches about what it will take for him to reach the Majors. Familia, meanwhile, has been working with both Batista and pitching coach Dan Warthen to learn the intricacies of big league life.
"So far, he's very eager to learn and that's a good thing," Batista said. "He's a guy that is very smart. He absorbs what you tell him right away and he just wants to go out there and try it."
There will be hiccups, of course, as there were for Harvey on Friday. And there are always implicit dangers in the prospect game. Less than two decades ago, the Mets boasted a similar trio of talented young pitchers who never quite fulfilled their potential. Though Jason Isringhausen enjoyed -- and continues to enjoy -- a long career as a reliever, neither Paul Wilson nor Bill Pulsipher lasted particularly long in the league.
Then again, much of the Mets' front office was in place in Oakland when the A's developed one of the strongest starting pitching trios in recent memory, building a contender behind Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Talent, it seems, can go in any direction, leaving the Mets and their pitchers to hope for the right mix.
"I feel excited to be one of the group with Harvey ... and the other guys," Familia said, echoing the sentiments of his teammate. "I'm working hard every day to be in the big leagues."