Greenwich Time

Mets prioritizi­ng defense at spring training

- By Abbey Mastracco NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

It’s a big spring for catcher Francisco Alvarez and third baseman Brett Baty. After making their big league debuts last season, the hope is that the Mets’ top prospects will be ready to produce consistent­ly at that level this season.

Alvarez, Baty and others will get plenty of opportunit­ies to make the roster out of camp with so many key players leaving part of the way through to represent their respective countries in the World Baseball Classic. The Mets are losing their entire infield and catcher Omar Narvaez, so the club will use Alvarez, Baty, third baseman Mark Vientos and shortstop Ronny Mauricio heavily during the Grapefruit League season.

The plan for the prospects is to move some of them around the diamond to get them defensive reps at other positions. This makes sense for some of them since the Mets are thin on outfield depth and Vientos could end up slotting in behind Pete Alonso at first base.

“We’re gonna have a unique opportunit­y with people being gone, so I’ll move them around,” manager Buck Showalter said earlier this week at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner. “I like that. But some of them we’ll leave alone.”

Baty and Alvarez will likely be left alone. There is a heavy emphasis on defense, so Baty may not get a ton of reps in the outfield.

It wasn’t that long ago that Baty looked destined for the outfield. The 23year-old who was drafted 12th overall by the Mets in 2019 was momentaril­y blocked at the hot corner by Carlos Correa. The Mets were not interested in trading Baty but a 12-year contract with Correa, a shortstop who had agreed to move to third base, meant he would have to change positions. With only one year left on outfielder Mark Canha’s contract, a move to left field made sense. Baty has 19 games in left field under his belt at two different levels.

But Baty was drafted to be a longterm fixture at third. The rotating door at the hot corner has been well-docu

mented over the last seven years. The Mets found a short-term solution last year in Eduardo Escobar and the third baseman proved to be a solid pickup, hitting .240 with a .726 OPS, 20 home runs and a 106 OPS+ while playing good defense. With the 34year-old staying in Queens for another season, the club can take some time with Baty’s developmen­t and gauge his progress this spring when Escobar plays for Team Venezuela in the WBC.

“Just like all of these young guys, I want to see how they’re going to fit defensivel­y,” Showalter said. “Whether they’re able to make the step and be impactful offensivel­y, it will shake itself out, but it’s where they are defensivel­y in the scheme. Can you play them when they’re trying to figure out the pitching at the Major League level? And if they’re not able to defend, they’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt.”

The same goes for Alvarez, who has a tougher job as a catcher. He’s been working with catching coordinato­r Glenn Sherlock in Florida and has already drawn high praise for his work behind the plate.

“He looks great,” Showalter said. “Glenn was out with him yesterday. He came in raving about all of them, really, but he was excited about where they were. (Alvarez) has been down there catching guys and doing everything you can imagine. He’s ready to go. And that was another physical thing that I wanted to get my arms and around see where he is. He seems to be good.”

Alvarez had right ankle surgery following the conclusion of the 2022 season but is not limited in camp.

The two showcased their hit tools in the minor leagues but in limited bigleague action, they didn’t light up opposing pitchers. However, there were flashes of power, as Baty hit .184 with two home runs in 11 games and Alvarez hit a home run and double in five.

They have to make the jump to being able to hit Major League pitching but the Mets want to make sure their defense is at a high level as well.

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