There won’t be real baseball in Brooklyn this summer, but there will be baseball activity.
The Mets are planning on using MCU Park, home of the short-season Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, as an overflow site during camp, which starts next week, and as the workout home for their in-season taxi squad of backup players.
That highly unusual arrangement is part of the pandemic-induced contingency plans implemented by MLB. Because there won’t be a minor-league season — it has not officially been canceled, but nobody expects it to happen — the Mets won’t be able to call up players from, for example, Triple-A Syracuse like they normally do when someone needs to be replaced. Instead, they will have a pool of 60 total players on the active roster and taxi squad.
Unlike with the shortened-season schedule, which does not work in the Mets’ favor because of a greater percentage of games against good teams, this dynamic is convenient for the Mets. They own the Cyclones and operate MCU Park, so that relationship along with the geography makes it an easy choice. MCU Park in Coney Island is about 20 miles from Citi Field in Flushing.
Other teams don’t have it so easy. The Yankees plan to use PNC Field in Moosic, Pennsylvania, which is where Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre plays. That is more than 125 miles from Yankee Stadium. They could use Staten Island’s stadium but are opting for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s the facilities are much better.
The Red Sox are in talks with Boston College to use its field as a camp overflow site. When the season starts, their taxi squad will be based at Triple-A Pawtucket’s ballpark, 50 miles from Fenway Park.
Among the next questions the Mets have to answer: Who will be on that Brooklyn-based taxi squad? Teams must submit the names of those 60 players by Sunday afternoon. Players report to camp Wednesday, when they will be tested for COVID-19, with the first official team workout scheduled for two days later.
Most of the pool players will be ones who were already in major-league spring training this year. In addition to everyone from the projected Opening Day roster, you’ll get your usual assortment of an extra catcher or two, a few outfielders and infielders, rotation depth and a bunch of relievers.
For rebuilding teams, it will be easy to reserve some of those 60 spots for prospects who otherwise won’t get a chance to develop this year. But for teams like the Mets, who fancy themselves as a playoff contender, it will be a more difficult decision.
Upper-minors prospects such as shortstop Andres Gimenez and lefthander David Peterson seem like more obvious choices, because they could feasibly help the major-league team if needed in 2020. But most of the Mets’ best minor-leaguers are still in the lower minors, years away from realistically playing in The Show.
Should they save a spot for, say, 19-year-old shortstop Ronny Mauricio, widely considered their top prospect? Or 18-year-old catcher Francisco Alvarez, or 19-year-old righthander Matthew Allan? The state of player development in the age of coronavirus is such that this might be their best opportunity to advance their skills this year.