Versatility a hot topic as Mets report to camp

February 17th, 2021

NEW YORK -- The eternal signs of spring surfaced Wednesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where Mets pitchers and catchers reported for the first day of camp. Players continue to undergo physicals and participate in intake testing, with the first official workout scheduled for Friday. But many Mets have already taken the field.

Manager Luis Rojas also delivered his annual “State of the Mets” address, this time via Zoom. Some takeaways from his first conference of the year:

Versatility is king
Although the Mets don’t know for certain whether the designated hitter will be gone from the National League, they are proceeding under that assumption, going as far as to have their pitchers practice bunting on the back fields on Wednesday.

Of greater issue is what that will do to the Mets’ defensive alignments. Although Rojas did not commit to a firm starting eight, he indicated that will play “more left field than he will first base,” and that will spend much of his time at third. However, Rojas left plenty of room for others -- and , for example -- to man left, and for , and others to play third.

What’s clear is that the Mets’ Opening Day lineup will not be their only lineup. Last year, the Mets used a different starting eight nearly every night, setting a streak of unique lineups to start the season that only the inaugural 1962 Mets could match. That’s unlikely to change this season for these reasons:

• Smith will see time in left field and first base
• Nimmo will play center and left field
• McNeil will play mostly second base, but also potentially third and left
• Pillar, Villar and others will frequently sub in to give other starters rest

“There’s multiple guys that can play multiple positions,” Rojas said. “In a camp like this, you want to give everybody a chance in the positions that they can come in and play. … There’s different strategies to the depth that we have in camp right now.”

Thor continues progressing
threw a side session on Wednesday as he continues working back from Tommy John surgery. The Mets’ expectation remains a June return for Syndergaard, though that could change depending on how he progresses over the next few weeks.

“We’re still on schedule with him, and what we’ve said in the past,” Rojas said.

Opening ideas
The Mets “will be open-minded” about using openers this season, as well as other ideas that could affect their pitching staff. Rojas has said he was hesitant to use the opener strategy during his first year as manager, but he plans to be less hesitant in 2021.

“There are different strategies as we go on a day-to-day basis,” Rojas said. “I know it’s been talked about before, that there’s never too much pitching. And I know that we’ve been staying active this offseason, and I think we’re doing it on a daily basis from a front-office standpoint. There’s a lot of depth.”

One reason the Mets intend to be flexible with their rotation is because no one on staff threw more than 68 innings last season. Some of their younger pitchers, such as David Peterson, could be on strict innings limits in 2021, though Rojas said team officials have yet to discuss that.

Using openers could help the Mets manage those issues. The team may also rely more than ever on its depth starters -- a group that this year includes Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Jerad Eickhoff and Sean Reid-Foley.

Recommitting to organizational values
Earlier Wednesday, a story in The Athletic revealed that the Mets dismissed Minor League hitting coordinator Ryan Ellis this offseason due to sexual misconduct. In light of Ellis’ dismissal, as well as previous accusations against former general manager Jared Porter and former manager Mickey Callaway, Rojas said the Mets have put new protocols in place for employees to report misconduct.

“We’ve set new expectations,” Rojas said. “There’s also new avenues added to it to report cases like this. It’s been disappointing to see it from afar when you get reports of this news, and [it’s] upsetting. … Those misconducts, they’re just unacceptable. We should have a safe environment to work, a safe workplace, and everyone should feel safe around here.”

Ellis had been on staff since 2006, overlapping with nearly all of Rojas’ tenure. Last summer, the Mets temporarily promoted Ellis to their big league staff when hitting coach Chili Davis decided to work remotely during the season.

Rojas described his relationship with Ellis as strictly professional, saying he never had any indication that Ellis was not acting appropriately.

“It’s been upsetting to hear the news,” Rojas said. “It’s been disappointing to hear the news. But my confidence right now is working under the new ownership. … Our new ownership has definitely set a new set of expectations that they put out, and there’s also new avenues of reporting these cases. So I’m pretty confident that this type of behavior is something that is just going to be unacceptable in this organization.”