PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — While all eyes were focused on would-be prospect Tim Tebow on Wednesday, a true Mets prospect quietly went about opening some eyes in the same spring training game against the Red Sox.
Shortstop Amed Rosario, the Mets’ consensus No. 1 prospect, was slotted ahead of No. 8 batter Tebow in the lineup. In the fourth inning, with runners on first and second, Rosario hit a slow roller to shortstop — an out most of the time. Red Sox shortstop Marco Hernandez fielded the ball cleanly and threw to first in a fluid motion. As the ball hit first baseman Sam Travis’ glove, Rosario already was a step and a half past the base.
The infield single wasn’t the headline in the inning. That was Tebow’s ensuing run-scoring double-play grounder, an outcome for which the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback received a standing ovation.
The 6,358 fans who attended the game probably will most remember seeing Tebow play baseball. It’s a novelty.
Rosario’s contribution at the plate (1-for-3) and in the field likely went unnoticed by most casual fans. But to die-hard fans, Mets people and scouts, it was a small taste of what is to come from the talented 21-year-old.
“He’s unbelievably athletic,” said second baseman Neil Walker, Rosario’s double-play partner Wednesday. “That’s the first thing that I think when I see him. I see him move, I see his actions, the way he handles the position. He moves as good as a lot of young guys I’ve seen. Very fluid. I think that’s something that’s going to be a staple for him as far as the shortstop position.”
Rosario, listed at 6-2, 190 pounds, hit a combined .324 with 24 doubles, 13 triples, five home runs, 71 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for St. Lucie (Class A) and Binghamton (Double-A) in 2016. He hit .341 in 54 games at the higher level. He also made 23 errors, so there’s room for improvement before he’s ready for the majors.
“I think that I feel relaxed and that this is a great opportunity for me,” Rosario said Thursday through a translator. “I’ve had to make adjustments just because major-league pitchers have a little more knowledge than minor-league pitchers.”
Rosario is in his first major-league spring training. He is batting .318 with a double and three RBIs. Fellow Dominican Jose Reyes took Rosario under his wing before the veteran left for the World Baseball Classic.
“That was a great experience for me,” Rosario said. “He was my favorite player, so I never thought I’d have the opportunity to play with him. His energy and the way he plays, I see myself and I see that we kind of have a little bit of the same style in how we play.”
The Mets’ infield will be in flux after this season. Walker and Reyes will be free agents and the team holds an $8.5-million option with a $2-million buyout on shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. No one knows what the future holds for David Wright.
If Rosario proves he is ready, expect the Mets to find a way to get him in the lineup in 2018. When that happens, people probably will notice and appreciate Rosario more than they did with Tebow in town.
“He’s quiet,” Walker said. “He understands the game. He’s going to go through a learning curve just like everybody else did at that age. But I think from a tools standpoint, he’s highly regarded for a reason. The offensive development will come. He’s capable of doing a lot of things. I’ve seen him spray some balls around. I’ve seen him power some balls in the gap. Obviously, you see how well he runs. You’re talking about a five-, six-tool guy. There’s not too many of those guys out there.”