Ronny Mauricio was on his phone, scrolling through social media and liking everything he saw when a photo with a familiar face appeared on his screen.
Mauricio was 16 at the time and had just fulfilled a lifelong dream by signing with the Mets. His bonus of $2.1 million broke the club record set by fellow Dominican Amed Rosario, who signed with New York for $1.75 million five years in 2012.
The teen saw Rosario’s Instagram page and immediately sent him a direct message.
“I just broke your bonus record,” the DM said. “And I’m going to be the next shortstop of the New York Mets.”
Mauricio, who by all accounts is one of the most likable and humble prospects in the game, also likes to have fun. He was mostly joking with Rosario. Besides, the Mets’ No. 1 prospect prefers to let his actions do most of the talking.
“My experience as a professional has been the best thing that has ever happened in my life,” Mauricio, 18, said in Spanish. “It’s not what I expected. It’s been much more.”
Mauricio, who was the No. 11 international prospect when he signed with the Mets in 2017, hit .268/.307/.357 over 116 games with Class A Columbia this season. He hit .290 over the first half but saw that number dip to .245 after the break.
“The thing that stands out to me personally is his ability to battle in his first full season at age 18. To play at that level is a real challenge,” said Jared Banner, the Mets’ executive director of player development. “He met that challenge on and off the field. He’s developed a routine that works for him and it was a very successful year for him.”
Finding a routine and adjusting to the pace of play in professional baseball is arguably the most difficult challenge for international prospects like Mauricio. There are prospect leagues in the D.R. that have games on a semi-regular basis, along with various showcase tournaments, but it’s impossible to simulate the ups and downs of a long Minor League season. Consider this: Mauricio played a career-high 116 games with the Fireflies this season after combining to play just 57 games in rookie ball last season.
Back home in the Dominican Republic, the teen had a different routine.
Mauricio left his home in San Pedro de Macoris to train with Carlos Guzman at his academy 20 miles west in Boca Chica at age 12. The infielder spent most of the next four years working out for big league teams curious about his present and future tools. In the year leading up to his signing, Mauricio participated in two or three tryouts per day, five or six days a week. Most days, he was on the field from sunrise to sunset.
“I consider it to be a privilege to be an international prospect and I’m grateful for everything that comes with it,” Mauricio said. “But it is a very difficult life and there are so many tryouts. I come from a family that didn’t have very much, sometimes not even food to eat, so I was working for them, too. I was working for all of our future.”
Former Mets scouts Marciano Alvarez and Gerardo Cabrera along with former Mets international scouting director Chris Becerra, who now works with the Red Sox, were instrumental in Mauricio’s signing. Becerra said he knew there was something special about Mauricio the first time he saw him.
“It was early 2016, maybe January or February, at an event in San Cristobal when Ronny walked by me,” Becerra said. “I’m on my way out of the stadium to the airport and Ronny is a few feet away from me at the entrance dressed head to toe in Royals’ gear. He was tall and lanky with this swagger. He just looked like a ball player and I told our guys to follow him.”
That’s when the Mets started tracking Mauricio in earnest. And it didn’t take long for them to fall in love with the teen’s easy and loose actions at the plate and on defense. He was skinny -- around 6-foot-1 and 135 pounds -- but there was lots of room to grow and his energy was infectious. His makeup was off the charts and it is part of the reason the Mets never gave up on him early in the process, even after the rare bad day on the field.
“I remember catching him on the wrong day and he really looked beat up and tired,” Becerra said. “His energy was down, and he was literally sitting on the field at shortstop. It would be easy to say, ‘This kid has a bad attitude,’ but I knew he was just worn down from the last six months of tryouts. This kid would never say he was tired or say he couldn’t go. His makeup was just ridiculous. We knew he was a top tier player. We believed in him. He just needed to rest.”
Mauricio was one of the lucky ones. For many international prospects, a poor workout, especially in front of high-ranking team officials, can mean the end of the baseball dream. At best, it can delay it. High-stakes tryouts were part of Mauricio’s routine.
“With American prospect kids, we will have practice schedules and game schedules. You get stats and more looks,” Becerra said. “The international kids don’t have a set schedule. If team ‘X’ is calling and the GM is coming down, well, guess what? If you are an international prospect, you are going to work out even if you are exhausted and even if you had two tryouts earlier that day.”
“So, then the team gets its looks and you have to make a decision on how to proceed,” Becerra continued. “That’s why you have to see the international kids as much as you can, and you just need to understand what their lives are like. Their mentality is just nails, much more advanced than the average 14- or 15-year-old.”
It appears Mauricio’s sense of humor was also beyond his years. Rosario chuckled when he was reminded of Mauricio's message two years ago.
“I don’t remember the exact conversation, I probably have it on my phone somewhere, but it was him joking around saying, ‘Hey, I signed with the team and I’m coming for your spot,’” Rosario said. “I think his talent level is unbelievable. If he continues working hard and stays humble, I think he can go far as possible.”
Mauricio, who is now 6-foot-3 and weighs close to 170 pounds, is built more like a third baseman than a shortstop these days. He has a strong arm with solid defensive actions. There’s a probably a better chance he could play next to Rosario – instead of replacing him -- in the big leagues one day.
“Rosario was very supportive and has always offered a helping hand,” Mauricio said. “I’d love the chance to play in the Major Leagues with the Mets and with him one day. I would like that a lot.”
Anthony DiComo contributed to this report.
Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.