Prospect Gilbert talks being traded for Verlander, his 1st big league camp and more

February 27th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo's Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Among a larger group of impact prospects taking part in Major League Spring Training is , one of two pieces -- along with fellow outfielder Ryan Clifford -- that the Mets acquired for Justin Verlander at the 2023 Trade Deadline. Much like Luisangel Acuña, whom the Mets received for Max Scherzer, Gilbert is an up-the-middle player with a high ceiling. He could impact the Majors as soon as this year.

“He’s got speed, he’s got the arm, and he’s a gamer,” manager Carlos Mendoza said this week. “This is a guy who’s going to go get the baseball, and he’s going to run through walls. Special player, special talent.”

I recently caught up with Gilbert, the Mets’ No. 2 prospect and No. 53 in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, to see how things are going in his first big league camp.

Looking back on the Aug. 1, 2023, trade that brought you to New York, how chaotic was that time in your life?
It doesn’t matter who you are, what your situation is, being traded is obviously a crazy thing. But you know it’s part of the business. You get into it, you know it could happen. I was grateful for my time with the Astros. I was grateful that they took me in the Draft, and now I’m just grateful to be a part of two good organizations.

Did you have any inkling that a trade could happen?
I mean, [I didn’t] necessarily know, but you have a sense that it’s always a possibility, especially when it gets toward that time. The Astros were in a good spot. They were trying to win a World Series that year. They’re always in the run to make some moves.

What’s it like to be able to say you were traded for Verlander?
Obviously, that’s pretty cool. Justin Verlander’s a Hall of Fame pitcher, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. But at the end of the day, I have to worry about what I can do to take care of each day and just try to make the Mets look good.

People describe you as playing “with your hair on fire.” What does that mean to you?
I try to be who I am. I try to be genuine. That just happens to be who I am. I love playing. I love playing with my teammates, and I love winning. I think that’s kind of where that comes from: a drive to win. I don’t really know why else you would play the game. That’s just who I am and hopefully will always be. Obviously, you’re always trying to make adjustments, and I’m not perfect. I’ve definitely let my emotions get the best of me at times. You just learn to harness that and try to win along the way.

Your defense has long been a calling card. Would you rather rob a homer or hit a homer?
Ahh, it depends on the situation. It really does. It’s a tough question, for sure. That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that.

What has the experience been like in your first big league camp?
It’s been awesome. I’ve been grateful just to be around these guys. You try to learn as much as you can. For me, it’s important just to watch, before you even start asking questions. I think you can learn a lot just from observing guys, and how they go about their days, and the way they work, their routines and whatnot. These guys have been awesome to me. They’ve been open, telling me to ask questions if I have any. I’m super grateful for that.

Were you nervous coming in?
I think there’s always natural -- I don’t know if it’s nerves, but just anxious, right? It’s a new organization, and I don’t know any of these guys. So I think the human element kind of comes in sometimes, but you get over that pretty quick.

What are your goals for this season?
Obviously, there are statistical goals, and everyone wants to move up. But for me, if I want to take care of those things, I think the biggest thing is trying to maximize each day for what it’s worth. If you stack days on top of each other, you wind up making a lot of progress -- whether it’s performance or taking care of your body or whatnot. That’s a big goal for me, just being where my feet are and attacking each day.

What do you like to do for fun away from the ballpark?
Honestly, not much [laughing]. I like to rest, especially after long days like these. I like to hang out with friends, but I don’t have anything too crazy that I like to do. I like hanging out with [fellow prospect] Jett [Williams] at the hotel, but nothing crazy.