New York Mets manager Luis Rojas spoke to the team’s press corps from Port St. Lucie, Florida in his first press conference of spring training on Wednesday.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp and a new baseball season finally upon us, excitement and hopes are running high.
An explosive offense anchored by Michael Conforto, Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, and Dominic Smith — with an elite-level bench, to boot — has the Mets prepared to compete in what figures to be an extremely tough NL East.
One of the more intimidating rotational top-threes in the league in Jacob deGrom, the newly-acquired Carlos Carrasco, and Marcus Stroman will, in due time, be even further bolstered by the return of Noah Syndergaard (UCL surgery).
If the bullpen plays up to its ability — Trevor May and Edwin Diaz are some back-end tandem — and the team adds a viable replacement for Seth Lugo (we discussed this over the weekend), this is just a wonderfully put-together group. And there still could be additions on the horizon, mind you.
As if the considerable roster turnover this winter wasn’t enough, Rojas said new Mets owner Steve Cohen’s effect was slightly evident on the first day of workouts, as well.
“[Cohen’s] passion for the team is unbelievable”, Rojas said, adding he could “feel that energy” on the field via the players’ excitement during Wednesday’s sessions.
Despite only pitchers and catchers reporting to camp thus far, as well as “still-challenging” logistics as far as camp intake (five-day quarantine required) and travel hangups, Rojas confirmed that all players scheduled to arrive had indeed done so.
Now the real challenge begins.
With a litany of depth strewn about this roster — on both sides of the chalk — and without the universal DH in place, decisions will need to be made. Rojas confirmed there was no traction on the DH front but they would welcome its adoption, of course.
Rojas pointed to Dominic Smith’s versatility as an essential facet of the team’s strategy, noting that the 25-year-old natural first baseman has a “good feel” for left field, adding that Smith “plays hard” and he’s “trying to get better all the time”.
After the breakout campaign that Smith enjoyed in 2020 (.316/.377/.616, 164 wRC+, good for sixth in MLB), as well as Pete Alonso’s inability to move away from first base defensively, Rojas confirmed it’s likely Smith will see more time in left field than at first this season.
Rojas applauded the overall versatile depth the Mets employ, as well, noting that Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis, and Jonathan Villar can all play the corner outfield spots if needed and added Villar could see time at third base if the situation arises.
The pitching staff is another area Rojas believes depth will serve the Mets well.
Having “several guys that have started games before” in Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Franklyn Kilome, Jerad Eickhoff, and Sean Reid-Foley will allow them to truly tailor-make their approach, adding that the Mets will be “open-minded” regarding the use of openers.
As for the outside and internal expectations that Rojas is entering this season with, the longtime organizational fixture called that “a good pressure”.
The coaching staff does have areas of concern during camp. None of these are surprises but a renewed focus on each could surely have positive effects.
“Our defense has gotta get better. We gotta be a better defensive team this year. That’s one of our main things to work on,” he said. “Controlling the running game for the pitchers is very important. That’s something that we haven’t done really well in the past few years […] and our baserunning. I thought we were poor at running the bases last year.”
For reference, the Mets’ -22 defensive runs saved (FanGraphs) last season was 26th in baseball, former catcher Wilson Ramos led the NL in stolen bases allowed the past two seasons, and the team’s 28.1 BsR (FanGraphs’ baserunning metric) since 2019 is worst in the majors over that span.
Room to improve, indeed.
And in case you missed it, former Mets outfielder Tony Tarasco was hired as the team’s first-base coach this offseason. Part of his job description includes outfield defense and team baserunning.
Blank-slate season. On many fronts. Time to go to work.
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