Mets' top prospects taking over Spring Training clubhouse

February 16th, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For the first time since moving into a new, state-of-the-art Spring Training clubhouse in 2020, the Mets have more players than lockers. To create enough space, team employees installed eight temporary lockers in the middle of the room, which are currently occupied by some of the organization’s most intriguing prospects.

When Jett Williams arrived at camp Friday for the first time this spring, a gaggle of reporters encircled that space to take a look at the future. Williams, 20, is coming off a season that saw him hit 13 home runs, walk 104 times and steal 45 bases over three Minor League levels. One of the Mets’ two first-round Draft picks in 2022, Williams has shot up prospect lists and is the Mets’ highest-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, at No. 45. (Pipeline’s Top 30 Mets list comes out in early March.)

“I’m just very grateful that I get to be in this position,” Williams said. “Don’t take anything for granted. There’s a lot of people who would love to be in my shoes, so just go out there and play baseball.”

On Friday, Williams roamed the back fields with fellow blue-chip prospect Luisangel Acuña, who also just arrived in town. Those two and Drew Gilbert are widely considered the Mets’ three hottest prospects. They all have an outside chance to crack the Majors late this season.

For now, Williams is trying to increase his bat speed, with the hope of generating more exit velocity to the opposite field. He’s also working on “staying low” at shortstop, one of his two natural positions along with center field. This spring, the Mets plan to split Williams’ time at those spots, with Acuña getting reps at second and short. The team doesn’t intend to use Williams at second base in games, though there’s a chance he ultimately ends up there.

“I don’t really care,” Williams said, when asked about his defensive home. “Whatever gets me to the big leagues the fastest.”

Return to health
Jeff McNeil, who ended last season on the injured list due to a partially torn UCL in his left elbow, said a follow-up MRI taken in December revealed the continued presence of a tear. That’s normal for his type of injury. McNeil is considered a fully healthy player and does not expect to require surgery in the future.

“No problems at all,” said McNeil, who received a platelet-rich plasma injection in the elbow in September. “Doctors said it’s something that may flare up day to day, you might have a day where it’s a little bit bad. But hitting three or four times a week this offseason, didn’t have any problems with it. So I’m really confident with that going into this year.”

Coming off a season in which he hit just .270, shedding 56 points from his National League batting title season in 2022, McNeil hopes to return to form as one of the game’s premier contact hitters. The Mets have penciled him in as their everyday second baseman, without any plans to use him in the outfield. But McNeil will take at least some outfield reps during Spring Training to stay fresh in the event that the situation changes.

As for the rest of this offseason, McNeil was most excited about winning the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions celebrity golf tournament in Orlando, besting a field that included MLB Hall of Famer John Smoltz, hockey legend Jeremy Roenick and one of the most decorated LPGA tour players of all time, Annika Sorenstam.

“It was pretty cool to be on a leaderboard with her,” McNeil said of Sorenstam.

Local interest
Zack Short didn’t know he was on waivers until after the Mets claimed him in November, making the infielder one of David Stearns’ first acquisitions as president of baseball operations. When he received the phone call, Short immediately thought of his family. A Kingston, N.Y. native, Short allowed himself to consider the idea of playing in front of his parents and others at Citi Field.

“That’s what the goal is, obviously,” said Short, who now lives in Southern Connecticut. “My family hasn’t really had the opportunity to watch me too much in person. They’ve always been great watching on TV and everything, but I think it would mean a little bit more if you can play for your hometown team.”

Although Short grew up a Mets fan, his Mets-loving dad was frequently absent during the summer due to his job as a golf professional. Short’s mother, a Yankee fan, often took him to games in the Bronx, so he gained an appreciation for Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and company. But the Mets fan in him never dissipated.

Now a Met himself, Short could have a difficult time making the team due to the presence of veteran Joey Wendle, who also plays multiple infield positions and is on a guaranteed contract. But Short, a do-everything infielder who appeared in 177 games for the Tigers from 2021-23, could make things tough on the Mets because he is out of Minor League options. That’s always a consideration this time of year.

“I understand it’s an uphill battle,” Short said. “It’s going to be a climb to have an opportunity to make the team. But I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in the best position.”