As the Mets’ home-opener hoopla fizzled into an ugly loss Thursday, scattered across the East Coast were about 100 of the organization’s minor-leaguers participating in their own opener: minor-league Opening Day.
Tim Tebow, by far the Mets’ most famous minor-leaguer (if not much of a prospect), went 0-for-4 in Triple-A Syracuse’s first game as a Mets affiliate. Long Island’s Anthony Kay, perhaps the Mets’ closest-to-the-majors pitching prospect, went 4 2⁄3 innings without allowing an earned run for Double-A Binghamton. Simeon Woods Richardson, a second-round pick last year, lasted 1 2⁄3 innings before hitting his pitch count for Class A Columbia. Shortstops Andres Gimenez (Binghamton) and Ronny Mauricio (Columbia), both among the youngest players in their respective leagues, went hitless in their debuts.
It’s not nearly as sexy as what goes on at Citi Field, but these games and players are critical to the Mets’ future. Among them could be the next Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto or Pete Alonso — and it is Jared Banner’s job to help them get there.
“It’s like talking about your children,” said Banner, 33, the Mets’ executive director of player development, who is in his first season with the club. “You love them all the same. I can’t choose between them. I think there’s a lot of talent in this organization. A lot of exciting young arms. A lot of exciting position players with a lot of tools.
“We just need to help turn that talent they already have to game performance and getting them better, getting their routines right, helping them prepare on and off the field and become professionals. That’s our focus.”
Banner joined the Mets from the Red Sox (along with assistant general manager Allard Baird) after spending 12 years climbing the front-office ranks as Boston won three World Series titles. Hired in December, Banner didn’t waste any time ingraining himself into the organization. He had breakfast with Mickey Callaway, who — as Mets manager and a former player-development person himself — critiqued the Mets’ fundamental readiness during their bad 2018. He went to the winter meetings. He visited several prospects — including Alonso and Dominic Smith — at their offseason homes to start building personal relationships.
More significant are the changes Banner already has overseen — from philosophy to personnel to one very special assistant.
Banner uses the buzzwords and phrases you’ll hear from most execs about what they want to accomplish: create a culture, do the little things, communicate, be “relentless and vigilant” about “executing” your plan every day.
More tangibly, he is implementing uniform systems throughout the system — the same ideas, drills and language from the big leagues on down. “That way when guys move from level to level, there’s no confusion. They’re used to things being done a certain way,” Banner said. “And that includes with our energy level. We have to increase the sense of urgency overall. That’s our plan. With that in play, guys will make more seamless transitions as they move up the ladder.”
The Mets’ new minors coordinators skew younger — and, it’s worth noting, more fluent in modern baseball’s technology and data. Jeremy Accardo, 37, an ex-big league pitcher, is the pitching coordinator. Ryan Ellis, 40, is the hitting coordinator after serving as an assistant last year. Former Mets outfielder Marlon Anderson, 45, is the outfield/baserunning coordinator — a position the Mets didn’t have in recent years.
The addition of Anderson and his duties relates to Banner’s most basic belief: fundamentals matter. “[Anderson] really impressed me with his thoughts on how we could impact our culture from a baserunning standpoint,” he said. “He has a lot of passion for it. I think when you talk to him, you can see that. I think our players will feed off that passion that he has.”
And then there is Terry Collins, the second-winningest manager in Mets history. Collins will have a more involved role this year, his second as a special assistant to the GM, with a focus on player development.
Will Collins have an impact, or is it mostly just an honorary title? Consider: When Collins, 69, got his first minor-league managing gig in 1981, Banner was four years away from being born. Banner isn’t one to ignore that kind of institutional knowledge.
“It’s amazing to think about,” Banner said. “Some days he’s in uniform helping out. Other days, he’s more not in uniform and watching how things are progressing. He’s a resource for me and for a lot of people in this organization because he’s [served in so many roles]. His job is to help make the rest of us better and share his knowledge.”