Smith, Nimmo look to improve OF defense

February 25th, 2021

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For much of the winter, the Mets were rumored to be interested in George Springer, Jackie Bradley Jr. or any outfielder who could make them a better defensive team. The thought process was that a newcomer could play center field, pushing to left and to designated hitter.

But Springer signed with Toronto, Bradley’s market proved too expensive and the Mets no longer anticipate having a DH in 2021. That has left them with a starting outfield of (from left to right) Smith, Nimmo and .

Offensively, it is a strong unit. Defensively, however, the metrics tell a different story, with Smith producing -5 Outs Above Average the past two seasons in left and Nimmo delivering -3 OAA in center.

Both believe they are better players than that. In Smith’s case, he has spent years working to shed weight and become more athletic, but his outfield opportunities have been so sporadic that he doesn’t believe his gains have showed on paper. The Mets used Smith sparingly in left last season, working him more consistently at DH and sometimes first base. The results in left were not what Smith wanted, but they were based on a 161 1/3-inning sample that’s too small to be reliable.

“I know that I’m way more capable than what I’ve shown,” Smith said. “I really want to show the world that I’m an athletic player.”

In Nimmo’s case, he believes a late-season tweak could be the key to changing everything. Nimmo has talked frequently about the trouble he’s had on balls over his head. He gained new perspective on that when the Mets’ analytics team suggested late last year that he was playing too shallow. In early September, Nimmo shifted his setup closer to the wall, and he said he immediately felt more comfortable.

“I noticed a difference when we made that adjustment right away, and definitely was able to play more balls and be able to play the wall a lot easier, a lot better,” Nimmo said. “And then coming in on balls, I think is more of a more of a strong suit of mine.”

Should either of those two falter defensively, the Mets did acquire depth in the form of Kevin Pillar and Albert Almora Jr., two veterans capable of playing any outfield position. But the Mets’ hope is that Smith and Nimmo can prove more effective defensively than they have in the past.

Catching depth
The Mets have signed veteran catcher Caleb Joseph to a split contract, according to a source. Joseph, 34, is a strong defensive backstop who has appeared in only 23 Major League games since 2019. The year before that, he played in 82 games for the Orioles, batting .219 with three home runs.

Mind the gap
Marcus Stroman threw his first live batting practice session at the main Clover Park stadium rather than the back fields, which were being used for regular BP. Facing a group that included prospects Ronny Mauricio and Brett Baty, Stroman showed off several variations of his hesitation-style windup. The highlight came on Stroman’s final pitch, when he induced a foul pop from Mauricio, sprinted toward the dugout, caught it and then flipped the ball back over his shoulder to the pitching mound.

“It was a little scary at first,” manager Luis Rojas said, referring to a bunch of bats lying on the ground near the dugout. “But he’s a freak athlete, man. He’s good off the mound.”

Jeurys Familia also threw a live BP session, following Stroman.

Care package
The ceremonial changing of the guard from one No. 99 to another took place on Thursday, when Taijuan Walker received a shipment from former reliever Turk Wendell -- the only other Mets player to don that uniform number. The package included a necklace made out of teeth and claws, as well as some black licorice and a toothbrush -- all things for which the eccentric Wendell became known for during his time with the Mets.

Wrong number
Speaking to the media at Cubs Spring Training in Arizona, third baseman Kris Bryant said he received a cryptic text message from a Connecticut number late this offseason saying: “Welcome to the Mets.”

Taken aback, Bryant contacted his agent, who told him no trade had been made. The Mets had rumored interest in Bryant, but Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has significantly downplayed the seriousness of any talks.

“I’ve been answering these questions for three years now,” Bryant said. “I think I’m in a really good place in terms of dealing with that stuff now, and there’s really nothing for me to say about it.”

On air
SNY announced its full Spring Training schedule, beginning with a 1 p.m. ET broadcast Tuesday against the Astros. The network, with its partner PIX11, will broadcast 11 of the team’s 24 Grapefruit League games.