Brett Baty's confidence is carrying him in 2024 after it hindered him in 2023

What a difference 12 months can make.

About a year ago, Brett Baty was called up to take over third base from Eduardo Escobar after nine games with Triple-A Syracuse, where he hit .412 with five home runs. He was the No. 21 prospect in baseball as ranked by MLB Pipeline. It was a call-up that Mets fans were very excited about and campaigning for. At the time, on The Mets Pod, Connor Rogers and I had spent the better part of a month making the case for Baty to break camp with the big league team.

While it is common for there to be an adjustment to the big league level for young players, I don’t think many would have predicted the season that Baty had in 2023.

A hitter who typically had plus pitch recognition skills wasn’t recognizing pitches. A hitter who typically hit for both average and power didn’t hit for average or power. Evaluators told me leading into the year that defensively he likely projected about average at third base, and he was far below that.

Confidence is a heck of a thing. When you have it, it can carry you a long way. However, when you are lacking it, things can spiral in the other direction. The numbers do speak for themselves.

In 108 games at the big league level in 2023, Baty had a .598 OPS with only nine home runs while producing negative-4 outs above average defensively. I am unsure if the offensive struggles carried into the field or the other way around, but it was clear to me and most watching that Baty was not a confident player in 2023.

Naturally, this led to an offseason discussion about third base for the 2024 team. President of baseball operations David Stearns said at his initial press conference that he believed the solution to third base was internal. There was plenty of discussion that Ronny Mauricio might enter spring training as the leader in the clubhouse for the position -- until he tore his ACL in the Dominican Winter League. This meant heading into spring training that it would be Baty’s job to lose, with Mark Vientos being an alternative option.

Baty worked hard this past offseason to show up to spring training in the best shape that he’s been in as a professional. When I spoke to him in Port St. Lucie, he knew the opportunity in front of him and the key points that he needed to improve upon. Offensively, he needed to get back to reading the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and work on hitting the ball in the air more. He has always hit the ball hard, but when it is pounded into the ground it is less likely to lead to desired results.

Defensively, he needed to work on his initial quickness and footwork, and the Mets needed to position him better. In 2023, he was positioned in similar spots defensively to the likes of Manny Machado, which was not setting him up for success.

New York Mets third baseman Brett Baty (22) reacts after a play against the Cincinnati Reds in the first inning at Great American Ball Park.

On SNY's Mets Hot Stove during spring training, Baty went one-on-one with analyst and former Met Todd Zeile while talking about swing changes he made and his work on strengthening his top hand.

As a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, Baty's dominant hand is on the bottom and the top hand is what controls the barrel, which allows him to get to the ball out in front instead of almost lagging to it. Much like a golf swing, his goal was to swing down to get the ball to go up.

The early results have been promising. His baseline stats may not have the power yet, but as a big, strong kid, who is beginning to elevate the ball more, the power should come as the weather warms up.

Baty is looking a lot like the player I have covered since the Mets made him a first-round pick in 2019. He is hitting the ball to all fields, he is taking the close pitches, and working quality at-bats.

While his ground ball rate is similar to 2023, his fly ball rate is up four percent and his strikeout rate is down roughly 10 percent. Defensively, he has graded thus far at one out above average. In this case, zero is the barometer of a league average defender.

Numbers aside, with the eye test he looks night-and-day different defensively, whether that is fielding grounders and pop-ups or turning double plays.

I talked about confidence earlier, and the 2024 version of Baty appears to be a 180 from the 2023 version in that regard. I take it back to the pinch-hit home run off Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Hoby Milner, who only allowed two home runs vs left-handed hitters all of 2023. Go back and watch that highlight and watch Baty as he’s rounding the bases and into the dugout. That is a young man finding his confidence at the highest level of baseball.

There is a lot of season left to be played. Baty will surely go into slumps, as nearly every player does. It will be important for him to stay on the path and trust the process that he is good enough to bounce back. He has a leash here on a young team that is trying to re-establish themselves where if he struggles for a couple of weeks he is not going to be sent down to Triple-A.

Stearns recently said that Baty has "done a really nice job of solidifying third base." This all plays to the theme of confidence, both within himself as well as from the organization.

In the modern day of baseball, there are numbers for everything. I find those numbers to be incredibly important and cite them regularly. What makes baseball such a unique sport is that there are so many metrics yet so many unquantifiable ones. One of those is confidence. Last year, the lack of confidence spiraled Baty’s season. Twelve months later, so far, it looks like it’s carrying him.