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Mets' future enjoys time in the present at spring training

The Mets' Matt Allan throws in the sixth

The Mets' Matt Allan throws in the sixth inning of a spring training game against the Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla., March 8. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — They range in age from 18 to 21. They wear uniform numbers 87, 91, 93, 94, 95 and 96.

So six of the Mets’ top prospects who spent time in big-league camp probably were not shocked when they were among the team’s first cuts of spring training on Tuesday.

But (in uniform numerical order) Mark Vientos, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Matt Allan, Ronny Mauricio, Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty enjoyed their tastes of big-league life and gave Mets fans a glimpse of the future.

A distant future, in most cases. But a bright one, the Mets hope.

"There’s some dudes in our system," said Crow-Armstrong, an 18-year-old outfielder who was the Mets’ first-round pick in 2020 and made his professional debut on March 2.

"I’m really excited," manager Luis Rojas said. "They’re all coachable. You can approach them in a game. It’s just been great to have them."

Five of the six are position players; Allan is the only pitcher.

All six got into at least one spring training game before Tuesday and will keep getting chances before the Mets break camp. Even though players are reassigned from the big-league roster, it’s not as if they go far — the Mets’ minor-leaguers train at the same complex and remain available for use in spring training games.

Vientos, a 21-year-old third baseman who was a second-round pick in 2017, has the most minor-league experience with 222 games over three seasons. Before getting sent out, he went 3-for-4 with two doubles and soaked up as much wisdom as he could.

"I’ve been talking to J.D. [Davis], [Francisco] Lindor, Pete [Alonso]," Vientos said. "The main thing I’ve asked them is what’s the biggest thing when they were a young player just like myself. What’s helped them out. They say, ‘Compete, compete, compete. Don’t think just because you’re playing older and major league competition that you can’t hang with all these players.’ It’s like playing when you were little: All you thought about was competing. Trying to win games. So that’s all I’m trying to do: compete."

Baty, the 12th overall pick in the 2019 draft, also is a 21-year-old third baseman. After debuting in the minors in 2019, he had to sit out an entire year because of the pandemic at a crucial stage in his development, as did many of baseball’s top prospects.

He wasn’t expecting to get invited to big-league camp. "Kid in a candy store’’ doesn’t begin to describe his reaction to rubbing elbows with the Mets’ stars.

"It’s been awesome," said Baty, who went 2-for-8 with two RBIs before getting sent down. "Just being around the older guys. The coaches have been really welcoming. Everybody’s just super-nice, so it’s been a dream come true to be able to come in here to big-league camp."

Mauricio, 19, a switch-hitting shortstop, already has had that dream come true twice as he made brief spring training appearances the previous two years. Mauricio, who signed for a $2.1 million bonus as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, is starting to fill out his 6-3 frame, as the Mets’ scouts projected. He went 5-for-11 (.455) before getting sent down.

"This kid is turning into a man right now," Rojas said. "And this great experience is making him better."

If the Mets are able to sign incumbent shortstop Lindor to a long-term contract extension, as they hope, Mauricio may have to switch positions, or he could become trade bait. Even though he’s young and has never played anything other than shortstop, he knows the score.

"For sure, I think about it," Mauricio said through an interpreter. "But at the same time, it’s not going to take away from my goals of reaching the major leagues. I have to just focus on myself, focus on my game by succeeding every single season. If I’m not playing here in the major leagues, maybe I’ll be playing somewhere else. But also, if I’m playing here, I could switch positions and I’ll feel comfortable there as well."

Also in camp was Alvarez, a 19-year-old catcher from Venezuela who signed with the Mets in 2018 for a $2.7 million bonus. Alvarez went 0-for-5 and spent time learning from new Mets catcher James McCann, whom he hopes to replace someday. But Alvarez has time: McCann is in the first year of a four-year contract.

"I have learned a lot just from watching him," Alvarez said through an interpreter. "How he prepares himself and how he goes about his routine."

Crow-Armstrong is the youngest of the bunch and the only one without minor- league experience. He went 1-for-10 before getting sent down, but the one hit was a stand-up triple on March 6. That’s something the Mets hope to see a lot of this year from the speedy 19th overall pick in last year’s draft.

He also didn’t expect to make it to big-league camp this year.

"I was shocked," Crow-Armstrong said. "I was in Scottsdale working out and doing my thing over there. I got the call from [executive director of player development] Kevin Howard and it was a good conversation. He made it very clear, he was like, ‘You’re not here to make the team.’ That’s something that everybody knew, right? Crazy year, again, but a year that allowed me to be here. So I was surprised, but I was also super-happy, obviously."

Allan was a third-round pick in 2019 whom the Mets paid first-round money ($2.5 million) to keep him away from the University of Florida. The plan was to have the hard-throwing righthander pitch a full season in the minors in 2020 after a six-game, get-your-feet-wet stint in the low minors in 2019.

"Obviously, COVID had other plans," said Allan, whose mother and sister are nurses who were on the front lines of the pandemic.

Instead, Allan spent time at the Mets’ alternate site in 2020. He made his first appearance of 2021 on Monday against the Nationals. The 19-year-old was cooking with gas, throwing in the mid-90s, but he allowed three runs (one earned) in one inning and threw a wild pitch.

"The stuff was crisp," Rojas said with a knowing chuckle. "Maybe overused his fastball a little bit too much."

Allan has been paired with a pretty good mentor in camp: Jacob deGrom, who can teach him a thing or 12 about how to pitch like an ace.

"I guess I’ve been pretty fortunate that it seems like everything that I do, I’m paired with deGrom," Allan said. "It’s obviously awesome to be paired with arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball. But I think probably the biggest thing that was kind of eye-opening that he stressed to me . . . we were kind of just chatting and one of the big things that he told me was not to overcomplicate things. He said the game became easier for him when he stopped overcomplicating things."

Of the six prospects, Mauricio probably is the only one who has a chance to appear in the majors in 2021. And because the Mets have a pretty stacked roster, some of the position player prospects may not make it to Citi Field with the Mets, if they make it to the majors at all.

Still, it’s nice to be able to dream about what might be down the road in Flushing. Fans love homegrown players and players want to make it with their first club.

"We can’t shy away from the future," Vientos said. "But right now, we’re focusing on the present — getting better, getting to our goals for the season, trying to make strides. But definitely we’re excited for the future."

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