Mets' Billy Eppler, Buck Showalter share their excitement to 'watch some of the young guys' at spring training
Late in the 2022 season, the Mets called up three of their top prospects to get an opportunity at the major league level while the team was dealing with injuries and in need of some offensive spark.
Now heading into the 2023 season, there are expectations for Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Mark Vientos to make an impact and contribute in the big leagues.
Mets general manager Billy Eppler spoke to media from spring training on Saturday and shared his excitement to "watch some of the young guys."
"Really excited to watch them go," Eppler said. "See how they do. Feel good about the roster that's been put together and kind of the depth put behind it. Excited to watch some of the young guys, I think a lot of people are feeling that way. Just excited to watch them in their habitat."
Eppler went on to discuss the three prospects learning everything they can from the rest of the team and noted that they will all get a bit more of an opportunity during the spring because of the World Baseball Classic.
"I mean, one of the things we always talk about is a growth mindset," Eppler said. "And I think a lot of our player embody that and I know those young players do. They're sponges, they're soaking in everything they can. Whether it's their experiences around the coaches, experiences around the other players. Whether it's what they glean from Jeff McNeil or [Francisco] Lindor, [Brandon] Nimmo, or [Pete] Alonso or [Eduardo] Escobar around the diamond, they're able to learn, they're able to see routine and see how those players prepare. They're taking a lot away from those experiences, and they'll learn more here in camp.
"And actually, if we want to talk about the glass half full side of the WBC, selfishly from the Mets' perspective, those guys are going to get more opportunities. They're going to get a chance to play more and that's a good thing. Excited to watch them do their thing."
Manager Buck Showalter also spoke to media on Saturday and said that the three prospects have impressed people around camp with "their sense of purpose" and understanding that defense is just as important as offense.
"Everybody's impressed with the way they're moving around and their sense of purpose," Showalter said. "The sense of, 'OK, yeah I got it. I got to be good at this.' Some people don't like working at something that they need to be better at. 'Let me go hit, let me go hit.' I've said many times, the ability to defend allows me to keep you in the lineup when you're having those scuffling moments that everybody has offensively. You can't have the double negative, you're scuffling with the bat and we're not sure if you can defend. That doesn't play in the big leagues, that doesn't work."
Eppler was asked about waiting for Alvarez's defense to catch up to his offense, and made it clear that the organization wants him to be able to catch in the big leagues and he won't be strictly a DH.
"Yeah we want to wait for the complete package to be there," Eppler said. "If Francisco is on our club, if he makes our team or if he shows up, we want to make sure we can catch him. Because the long-term trajectory for this young man is to be able to catch. So we have to be able to satisfy that up here, it would not be pure DH situation.
"Now, y'all will put a caveat on things, or an asterisk, that if circumstances present themselves, for some reason you know something happened to Francisco where he couldn't catch and he was not going to be able to catch for the rest of the season for some reason. You know, that's just speaking in hypotheticals. I'm just putting that qualifier out there for everybody that if that happens don't take me back to this moment."
Eppler added that 3B prospect Baty has improved his agility skills and his experience last season has allowed him to realize how important defense is in the majors.
"The early reads I'm getting from Joey [Cora] and Miguel [Cairo] is that there's some agility improvement that happened," Eppler said. "So that tells me that he did a lot of the conditioning programing that was given to him in the winter time. And when I was talking earlier about the younger players soaking in their experiences and soaking in things what they learned last August or September. It's that heightened awareness, 'Wow these guys really take defense seriously.' I think those are the things that are standing out at least in early February, early camp."
Showalter was asked out of the three prospects, who has impressed him the most so far during spring training and said that Vientos has "had a real different look in his eye" in camp. Vientos will get a chance at both third base and first base during spring training, and Showalter hopes to play him at first a little bit when Alonso is at the WBC.
"Without a doubt, I thought especially Mark, I though Mark really benefited from seeing some things," Showalter said. "You all reach a point where all the best of the best somewhere. Guys that are utility infielders hit third and fourth in their lineup their whole life. And then you kind of reach a level where there's a certain [point], I think it made all of them approach the offseason differently. I think it really kind of narrows the focus of purpose. 'OK I got to do this to play there, I've got to do that.' Quite frankly, all of the things that our people were telling them in the minor leagues, they saw what they were talking about. Yeah you can do it, but you're going to have to be on your game."
Showalter added: "Just because you're on some list as a prospect, it doesn't [matter], up here can you help us win that night? Can you catch a ball, can you run the bases, can you do all the other things it takes. I think all three of those guys you talked about were receptive, but I really saw it with Vientos. The last week or so you could tell that he had a real different look in his eye about the work entailed."
Eppler was also asked about prospect Ronny Mauricio, who was named 2022 Dominican Winter League MVP, and if he will get any work at a position other than shortstop. Both Eppler and Showalter noted that they see Mauricio as a SS, but he could play a little 3B if needed in a game.
"He'll be at shortstop," Eppler said. "He had a really good winter ball. He's logged a lot of plate appearances, if you add up last year's plate appearances to the winter ball plate appearances, I think we're approaching 800. I mean he's over 750 plate appearances. He's a big, strong kid, but his fuel tank, we're aware of the fuel tank right now so we'll just watch him.
"He'll play exclusively shortstop. You know what, maybe if there's a game situation that comes up Buck might slide him to third because he did it a little bit in winter ball, but that's going to be more out of necessity."