WASHINGTON — In a year without minor-league baseball, the Mets are excited about having their minor-leaguers finally playing baseball — starting next week.
The Mets are bringing 60 players to their Port St. Lucie, Florida, complex for a six-week instructional camp, an annual spring training-like setup that this season takes on added significance. They are to report on Wednesday, undergo coronavirus intake testing — much like their big-league counterparts over the summer — Thursday, and begin workouts Saturday.
The pandemic that shortened the major-league season led to an outright cancellation on the minor-league side. That means a vast majority of prospects in the Mets’ farm system and others have had little to no formal practice in 2020, everyone more or less winging it and doing what they can on their own.
An instructional camp — instrux, in baseball jargon — is a chance to change that.
"This is going to be one of our few chances to develop in person this year," Jared Banner, the Mets’ executive director of player development, said by phone Friday. "We’re looking to take advantage of that and pack a lot of development into a short period of time.
"They’ve been really challenged during this period physically and mentally in many ways. They’ve had to be creative on how to train, how to get better, and they’ve had the natural mental challenges of the year 2020."
Among those participating are most of the team’s top prospects, including shortstop Ronny Mauricio, catcher Francisco Alvarez, third baseman Brett Baty and righthander Matthew Allan.
Also attending are three 2020 draft picks: centerfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, centerfielder Isaiah Greene and righthander J.T. Ginn, all of whom will be making unofficial organizational debuts.
The primary focus, Banner said, will be on game-like situations, as opposed to drills and more casual workouts.
"Clearly, we haven’t had the game experience and game reps that you would during a normal season," he said. "This camp will be focused around getting our players game reps, game at-bats, game-speed type of practice in order to try to simulate a lot of the work that they unfortunately weren’t able to get this summer."
Those involved will be tested regularly for COVID-19. That covers the Mets’ minor-league managers, coaches and other staff being called out of quarantine after they had slow summers, too.
"I’m excited to get to spend some time with the coaches," Banner said. "We all miss the game a lot and we want to get people out on the field again."
Usually, teams schedule scrimmages so their players can compete against those from other organizations. That might not be the case this year for the Mets.
"There’s obviously safety protocols that make that more complicated than it normally would be," Banner said. "We haven’t closed the door on it, but also we have to be careful."
Missing even the ‘groans’
Now that the strange season is basically over, what was the toughest part?
"It really is the atmosphere and not having the fans," Michael Conforto said. "We talk about it all the time. Being up there, at home specifically, in a big spot, you just miss the atmosphere. You miss that feeling you get when you’re in the box in a big spot. We even joke around saying that we kind of miss the moans and groans when you strike out. You strike out, you expect to hear something.
"The emotion that goes along with our passionate fans, you miss that and it makes the game a lot more fun. We’ll be looking forward to having that advantage at home in the years to come."
The Mets and Nationals were postponed by rain Friday and will play a doubleheader at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Jacob deGrom, trying for his third straight NL Cy Young Award, and Rick Porcello are due to start, though the Mets did not specify an order.
In order to stay mathematically alive in the postseason chase heading into Sunday, the last day of the season, the Mets (26-31) need to beat the Nationals twice plus get losses by the Giants (29-29) and Phillies (28-30).