PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Last summer, once it was safe for players to venture outside their homes and begin training again in socially distant ways, Mets prospect Matt Allan found himself searching for hitters to stand in the box against him. He contacted catcher Patrick Mazeika, who lives nearby in Central Florida. Mazeika told him to drive to his alma mater, Stetson University, where a group of players were going twice per week to see live pitching.
So Allan hopped in his car and made the half-hour trip north. When he arrived, he couldn’t believe what he saw: Jacob deGrom, throwing batting practice to a group of hitters.
“I wish you would have told me this earlier,” Allan told Mazeika.
Allan was hooked. Following the season he became more proactive, traveling again to Stetson to work alongside deGrom. A bit less starstruck that time, Allan began picking the brain of the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, in a trend that has continued at Clover Park.
In the early days of camp, the Mets have paired Allan with deGrom in nearly all of their drills, hoping that the organization’s top pitching prospect can soak up a bit of what has made deGrom so successful.
“We think it’s a great experience,” manager Luis Rojas said. “Why not? We have a group of kids here -- I call them kids, but ... out there on the field, when they’re showing their abilities, they don’t look like kids. They’re like sponges. They’re absorbing. And Allan’s one example with Jake.”
In that way and others, Allan has impressed team officials, showcasing the abilities that prompted the Mets, under ex-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, to rejigger their entire 2019 Draft strategy around landing him. Rather than take the best available player at every turn, the Mets sacrificed money for later picks to select Allan in the third round but pay him like a first-rounder.
Allan had dropped to 89th overall over signability concerns, which vanished once the Mets extended themselves for him. The fruits of that decision are now visible in Port St. Lucie, where Allan is in his first big league camp at age 19.
“His poise, his maturity has been impressive,” Rojas said. “Nineteen? He definitely behaves like an older person.”
Allan is not the only top prospect in camp for a team looking to get reps for such players as Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty and Pete Crow-Armstrong after the 2020 Minor League season was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Allan may be the one with the most enviable assignment, shadowing deGrom everywhere he goes.
Thankful for the opportunity to throw with deGrom in the past, Allan said that relationship helped “break the ice” before he ever showed up to camp. So when Allan did arrive, he was prepared with a long list of questions to ask his mentor.
“One of the big things that he told me was not to overcomplicate things,” Allan said. “He said the game became easier for him when he stopped overcomplicating things. … It started to become easier when he just focused on, ‘How am I going to attack this guy, and how am I going to get him out?’ I think that was a huge conversation.”
Heading into camp, pitching coordinator Ricky Meinhold told Allan what was already obvious: that he was not coming to make the team but to learn. Because of the pandemic, Allan has yet to pitch above low Class A, and he isn’t likely to sniff the upper Minors until at least next season. Allan seems to have embraced the freedom of this opportunity, chatting up not just deGrom but Marcus Stroman -- who gave him grip suggestions on various pitches -- and others.
In that manner he has continued his growth trajectory despite the lost year of Minor League development.
“I’ve asked him an array of questions, and he’s always been so good to give me an honest answer and then give me an explanation,” Allan said of deGrom. “Not just say, like, ‘This is what I do.’ He’s been really good about saying, ‘This is what I do, and this is why I do it.’”
The end goal, of course, is winning. The last time Allan pitched in meaningful games, he was a postseason callup to the Class A Brooklyn team that won the New York-Penn League title. He fired three scoreless relief innings in the decisive game, then celebrated on the field with his teammates. The following month, he traveled to Citi Field with the rest of the Cyclones to be honored.
“I want to do that again, wherever I’m at,” Allan said. “I want to be part of a championship team.”