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James McCann's ability to throw out base stealers a big change for Mets

Mets catcher James McCann during a spring training

Mets catcher James McCann during a spring training workout In Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Feb. 22. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Among the most persistent truths for the Mets in recent years is that they have been awful at preventing stolen bases.

The last four years, they ranked in the bottom five, last, tied for second worst and in the bottom five in caught-stealing percentage. Part of that is because of their pitchers; controlling the running game has been a perennial focus area for Noah Syndergaard, since-traded Steven Matz and others. And sometimes their catchers were bad at it.

Now, though, they think that will be different. New backstop James McCann historically has been good at catching would-be base-stealers, nabbing 36% percent of those who attempt to steal (better than the major-league average of 28%).

McCann flashed that ability Tuesday in the Mets’ 2-0, seven-inning exhibition win against the Astros, throwing out one of two runners. He caught speedy infield prospect Freudis Nova at second base to complete a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play with Jordan Yamamoto (two scoreless innings).

"That was an outstanding play," manager Luis Rojas said. "Quick exchange, footwork — James did a good job here. Just an overall good catcher, calling pitches, receiving."

McCann added: "Getting the first one out of the way is nice. It’s kind of relaxing."

The Yo Show

Former Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes worked out for about a dozen teams, including the Yankees, in nearby Fort Pierce, according to one person present. The Mets were not in attendance.

Cespedes hasn’t played since walking out on the Mets last August — due to what he said were coronavirus concerns — but is looking to catch on with another team.

One scout who watched Cespedes said he "looked good" and could probably be a DH.

Mac’s jack

Jeff McNeil homered for the Mets’ first run of spring training (second game), raising the question again: For how much power will he hit?

Sixteen of his 30 career homers came in the second half of 2019. Last year, he had four in 52 games.

"Mac has shown that he’s a 20-to-30-homer guy in a season," Rojas said. "He knows how to barrel the ball. He’s a good bat-to-ball guy and now, knowing him from the minor-leagues, he’s put some muscles on the body there and he’s been able to drive the ball farther."

Extra bases

McCann described the power of the bat of catching prospect Francisco Alvarez as "unbelievable." He also said his arm is "phenomenal," and his recommendation to the 19-year-old was to understand that a catcher’s greatest impact will come on defense . . . Albert Almora Jr. also homered against Houston . . . Jerry Blevins appeared to be fine after taking a line drive off of his hip . . . Righthander Jerad Eickhoff, in camp on a minor-league contract, is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Cardinals.

With David Lennon

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