PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — One look at the primary practice field at the Mets’ minor-league complex in recent mornings, and your eyes might deceive you. It looks as if spring has already sprung.
Pitchers and catchers don’t have to officially report until Tuesday. Their first formal workout is Thursday. The team’s first full-squad session is Feb. 18.
And there they were at 10 a.m. Saturday, about 40 Mets — close to two-thirds of the 64-player spring roster — doing their high knees and slow lunges and other warmups before playing catch, throwing bullpen sessions and taking batting practice.
Most of the pitchers and catchers already are here. So, too, are a bunch of position players, among them outfielders Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares, third baseman Todd Frazier and 20-year-old shortstop Andres Gimenez, generally considered the Mets’ top prospect, who was invited to big league camp for the first time.
It’s a new era for the Mets, one led by agent-turned-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, and there is an air of excitement even before things get started.
“Just because there’s as many [players] as there are — it seems like there’s more than normal — I’m just happy guys are willing to come here and get ready for the season,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “We told them that [Friday] morning, like, ‘Man, this is an unbelievable showing. You guys don’t have to be here, and you’re here getting after it already.’ And that kind of shows what we’re trying to do.”
Van Wagenen and his new inner circle of executives made a bunch of changes over the winter, most notably to a roster that now includes Robinson Cano at second base, Wilson Ramos behind the plate, Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia in the bullpen and Jed Lowrie all over the infield.
Chances are the 2019 Mets will succeed or fail based on how their stars perform.
But what makes these Mets better — the difference between this group and the ones that had losing seasons the previous two years — is depth, the Mets say.
For proof, Callaway said, wait till the fourth inning or so of that first exhibition game Feb. 23 against the Braves at First Data Field.
“You’re really going to see it during spring training when that first line comes out of the game and we put that second line in,” Callaway said. “We’re going to be a really good team even then.”
Take catcher as an example. Ramos is the new starter. He figures to be a big-time upgrade, particularly offensively and in controlling the running game, if he can stay healthy. Travis d’Arnaud may be the backup, but he suddenly has competition in the form of Devin Mesoraco, the Mets’ primary catcher for much of last season, who agreed to return on a minor-league contract Thursday.
If Mesoraco wins the backup job, the Mets have a No. 2 who was lauded last year for his game-calling and relationships with the pitchers. If he starts the year in Triple-A — it’s possible Mesoraco could opt out of his contract if not in the majors — he is a high-quality option if Ramos or d’Arnaud gets hurt.
“It speaks to what we’re doing here as an organization. Players want to come here,” Callaway said. “That’s the one thing that I noticed throughout the offseason. When we talk to players, they wanted to come here. I had pitchers that I’ve had in the past reaching out wanting to come here. It’s not for any other reason than we’re going to be a really good team.”
Similarly, lefthander Luis Avilan is in camp on a minor-league deal despite a career 3.09 ERA and .213/.289/.292 slash line by opposing lefthanded batters. Callaway also put lefthander Hector Santiago, a onetime All-Star who had a 3.87 ERA as a reliever last year, in that category.
“Where we are at this point in the season versus last year, we’re very comfortable with not only our starting pitching and our relievers but our depth,” Callaway said. “And that’s the main thing we really wanted to address this [offseason] — especially with the pitching staff. Get a couple of back-end guys and focus on our depth, so you can cover yourself when things might not go your way.”
The Mets are quite familiar with things not going their way. Everyone wants to believe this year will be different, and at this point — super-early, before Day 1 — they seem to be buying it.
“Everybody is confident,” Zack Wheeler said. “It’s a new regime, new atmosphere. You’re always excited when there is a good atmosphere around, and that’s definitely what’s happening this year. Nothing on people in the past, but it’s a new regime. It’s good.”
Added Robert Gsellman: “I wouldn’t say night and day [compared to last year], but everyone is a little more loose and it seems everyone is more focused with more of a game plan. We’re all enjoying it.”