Early Mets and Yankees spring training observations
Good morning from the New York City metropolitan area, where this reporter now sits, chilly, after a few privileged weeks at Yankees and Mets camps.
With that trip now in the past and BNNY studio shows in the immediate future, it feels like a good day to empty the notebook of assorted observations gathered from that swing through Florida.
No one is better equipped to provide daily details than the beat reporters who remain on site, but I did bring my eyes and ears to Tampa and Port St. Lucie, sitting near the scouts while closely observing the games, and talking to people up and down both organizations.
Here are some takeaways, in no particular order:
Anthony Volpe is up to the moment
Watching Volpe play for Double-A Somerset last summer, one could see his on-field electricity, which is evident in the massive leads he takes off bases, his bat-to-ball skills, and his overall hustle.
Interacting with Volpe in the Yankee clubhouse this spring, one is struck by his charm, enthusiasm and sense of franchise history. In his first group interview of the year, Volpe name-checked Willie Randolph as a person in camp he was excited to meet. He comes across as confident without being cocky, a normal New Jersey kid who is happy to be there.
These attributes suggest that he might land in that rare place of feeling comfortable on a big stage without becoming arrogant and/or off putting. It’s that personality, combined with Volpe’s play, that leads Yankee people to lick their chops and drop words like “special” on him.
He still might not be the shortstop of the future
It’s no knock on Volpe that the majority of scouts who cover the Yankees’ system still believe that Oswald Peraza projects as the team’s shortstop of the future. Both players have the tools for that position, but evaluators simply see a bit more range and arm in Peraza.
If both fulfill their respective potentials, the team could make Volpe a second baseman or third baseman, or punt on a final call in the name of versatility. After all, there is no rule that a team has to announce its 2026 shortstop any time in 2023.
It’s also worth noting that Peraza communicates to the media through a translator, so it’s not fair to compare his personality to Volpe’s. English-only reporters have to constantly check ourselves in saying that players on the same side of the language barrier are more engaging. That can just be our own unconscious biases at work.
Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio still have work to do
This pair of Mets infield prospects project as major league bats, and might be nearly ready in that area. Both started off hot at the plate in the Grapefruit League season, and both are working in earnest on their defense.
Listen closely to manager Buck Showalter’s comments, and you hear references to how Mauricio’s Dominican League MVP campaign delivered him to spring training in midseason form. The extra bit of context is useful in evaluating Mauricio’s hitting in this recent small sample.
When asked in postgame media sessions about Mauricio and Baty’s home runs, Showalter tends to briefly complement their hitting before quickly noting that when evaluating young players, he values defense.
Showalter knows that it’s unwise to become excited about offensive performances in early March, when opposing pitchers are utilizing their repertoire in a manner designed to refine it, not retire hitters. Literally: Fastballs are often 92 instead of 96, and out pitches are not thrown in out situations.
Watching the games from behind the plate, one is struck by how Baty’s lateral movement and agility still need work.
He is doing that work -- but good luck finding an evaluator inside or outside the Mets organization who thinks he’s there yet. It’s still unclear if Baty will develop the range to play left field at spacious Citi Field.
Mauricio, meanwhile, will need to learn third base or left field if he is to remain a Met, a fact that he acknowledged last week. Shortstop is spoken for. That defensive education will need to happen in Triple-A.
Defense matters not just at shortstop but at third and in left, perhaps more than is widely acknowledged. The seasoned Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha are installed at the latter two positions, but it’s not just that keeping Baty, Mauricio and Mark Vientos from the big leagues -- watch the games, and one can clearly see that neither Baty nor Mauricio is MLB in the field.
Carlos Beltran truly will help Francisco Lindor
It’s easy to make a generalization like “Carlos Beltran will help Francisco Lindor.” It’s more meaningful to watch Beltran stride into the Mets’ clubhouse with the outsized presence he carries into every room, sit next to Lindor’s locker and talk for 30 minutes.
Beltran speaks about his empathy for what Lindor has experienced as a big-money import to the Mets (and empathy from Beltran is a feeling that runs particularly deep). Lindor is clear about the respect he holds for Beltran’s career, leadership and knowledge. These are not mere words, but genuine feelings.
In his new role as a special assistant to GM Billy Eppler, Beltran has formalized what he has done for Lindor on a pro bono basis since 2021. The elder statesman talks to the 29-year-old about topics ranging from his swing to handling the media to helping teammates and much more.
Lindor became much more comfortable in his second year with the Mets, and now receives louder applause than any other Mets player at spring training games. Beltran can help him travel whatever distance remains.
Lindor, in turn, is paying it forward with younger teammates. Before a recent game against the Cardinals in Jupiter, he finished his own work, then spent significant time with Baty and Mauricio on infield technique
The Cohens are still doing a good job connecting to Mets history
Before the first week of games was over, Beltran had joined the baseball operations group and David Wright, Darryl Strawberry and Edgardo Alfonzo had arrived as guest instructors.
Last year, Steve and Alex Cohen provided the support for vice president of alumni relations and team historian Jay Horwitz to assemble a long-awaited Old Timer’s day. That was a triumph, as was Keith Hernandez’s Hall of Fame ceremony. That Cohen/Horwitz combo is still a key one for the franchise.
These Mets see the value of embracing their icons and connecting them to fans. For many years, it was the Yankees who were known for trotting out one legend after another in spring training, but the Mets might have surpassed the Yanks on this front.
The Yanks have nuanced and in some cases valid reasons to cut down on guest instructors, but it’s still nice for a fan (or player) to see one’s childhood favorites in uniform on a sunny morning in March.
Next step for the Mets in this area: Carve out a special assistant or special advisor-type role for Wright.