PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Across the state resides another top prospect with a strong case to crack the big leagues on Opening Day. As Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s peer, Peter Alonso took notice this week when Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins wouldn't commit to calling up Guerrero -- despite the latter's .336 batting average at Triple-A, his .978 OPS and his obvious generational talent.
"The kid, how old is he, like 19, 20?" Alonso said upon reporting to Mets camp Saturday. "He deserves to be up there. That kid is a phenom. That's all I'm going to say about that.":: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Four-and-a-half years Guerrero's elder, Alonso finds himself in a similar, but not identical, situation at the dawn of Mets camp. Fresh off a season in which he bashed 36 homers over two Minor League levels, including 21 in 67 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, Alonso is arguably the Mets' best first-base option already. Unlike Atkins, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has said he will carry Alonso on New York's Opening Day roster if he proves his mettle this spring.
"Our management's going to fight for him," manager Mickey Callaway said. "I think Brodie's made it clear that he's a players' guy. And if he deserves it, he's going to be on the team."
But skeptics remain, pointing to a rule that incentivizes teams to keep their top prospects in the Minors on Opening Day. If the Mets wait until mid-April to call up Alonso, they will ensure a seventh year of team control over MLB Pipeline's No. 51 overall prospect. The Cubs did it with Kris Bryant. The Braves did it with Ronald Acuña Jr. The Blue Jays are at least considering doing it with Guerrero. Now, the Mets will have to consider it with Alonso, as well.
In other words, even if Alonso proves himself a better first-base option than Todd Frazier or Dominic Smith this spring, the Mets could still send him back to Triple-A, a fact of which he is all too aware.
"I can only control what I can control," Alonso said. "That's all I can do. The only thing I can control is with my own two hands, playing well in the field, that's really it. Hitting the ball, playing good defense, that's all I can do. And whatever happens, happens."
Alonso, for his part, is doing everything possible to "force someone's hand." Working out in the Tampa area this winter and consulting regularly with Mets infield instructor Tim Teufel, Alonso improved his footwork at first base and shed 12 pounds. Defensive issues, which have long been his main struggle on the field, were the Mets' public justification for not calling him up last season. But Alonso says he has "elevated my game tremendously at first base," and is eager to show that off in Grapefruit League competition.
The Mets have taken notice, with Callaway calling Alonso "probably the most improved defensive guy" Mets coaches have seen in a long time. Last spring, a member of the Port St. Lucie grounds crew chided Alonso for taking so many ground balls early one morning that he chewed up the field.
"I kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel," Alonso said. "I'm just going to work hard and see what happens."
Among those who advised two-sport star Kyler Murray on his recent decision between professional football and baseball was none other than Tim Tebow, who told the Oklahoma quarterback and A's Draft pick to "follow your heart."
"Don't do it for your agents, or your friends, or sometimes necessarily even your family," Tebow told Murray. "Do it for what's in your heart."
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Tebow met Murray through his work as an ESPN college football broadcaster, interviewing him for the network and bonding over Murray's childhood love of the Florida Gators -- and of Tebow in particular.
"Kyler, I think is a really good young man, and I think it was a really tough decision for him," Tebow said. "He loves two sports, and I can really relate to that."
Getting off on the right foot
For a few days this offseason, Mets former first-round pick Gavin Cecchini was entirely uncertain of his future. The club designated Cecchini, its No. 16 prospect per MLB Pipeline, for assignment to make room for new reliever Justin Wilson, but outrighted Cecchini to Triple-A Syracuse after no team claimed him.
Now back in Mets camp, Cecchini is happy simply for another chance to showcase the improvements he made last season, batting .301 with an .816 OPS before fouling a ball off his foot and missing most of the rest of the season. Initially diagnosed as a bone bruise, the injury turned out to be a strained ligament from which he is now fully healed.
"It was frustrating," Cecchini said. "I was playing well. It was just a freak thing that happened, and you can't control that."