With a single swing in an intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday, Yoenis Cespedes allowed the Mets to glimpse what might be possible in the 2020 season.
The mercurial slugger drove a pitch from Seth Lugo into the leftfield stands for a mammoth home run. If the rest of his teammates hadn’t already noticed Cespedes’ drive to return to the starting lineup when the season begins, that surely caught their eye.
“We’re excited about where he is at this point with two weeks to go,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said Friday, when the club’s workouts were forced indoors by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay. “We can start to dream a little bit.”
Cespedes, 34, hasn’t played since July 20, 2018, because of surgery on both heels. He suffered a broken right ankle in 2019 and missed the entire season. The Mets know all too well what he can do when healthy, though. After being acquired in a 2015 trade with Detroit, he played 189 games in 2015 and 2016 and had a .926 OPS with 48 home runs.
If he is that hitter again, putting him in a lineup on either side of 2019 Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso would create a hazard any opposing pitcher would have trouble negotiating.
Van Wagenen and manager Luis Rojas indicated that’s the hitter the Mets see when he’s in the batter’s box.
“The definitive statement says: He can hit,” Van Wagenen said. “And what he’s shown here — and everyone saw yesterday, him hit the home run in the intrasquad game — we’re very excited about what the impact of his bat can be.”
“He’s very secure about what he can do out there,” Rojas said. “He’s working really hard and right there [on the homer], he’s showing it off.”
However, he will have to do more than hit to become part of the starting lineup.
“The two questions that we still have to answer are, first, can he be baserunning with the exertion level and workload level to be able to play on an everyday basis when we do start up?” Van Wagenen said. “And then, secondly, what is going to be his outfield availability?”
Cespedes is working toward that with running progressions that have impressed Van Wagenen and Rojas. With both leagues using the designated hitter in this shortened season, if he can run the bases, he at least can be the DH. As the Mets play more intrasquad scrimmages and work up to exhibition games next weekend against the Yankees, his defense will have a chance to catch up.
“He’s been able to participate in not only what other people are doing, but he’s been able to do extra work that’s required of him as he tries to rebuild his strength,” Van Wagenen said. “We’ve seen that on the bases.”
Even though Cespedes hasn’t elevated every part of his game back to what it was, he is making an impact on his teammates.
“His attitude has been great,” Rojas said. “I think [he] brings so much to the clubhouse. He’s a great presence to the guys. He’s such a force, it’s just great that he’s in our corner and advancing every day.”
Cespedes may be running in drills, but he wasn’t Thursday after taking Lugo out of the park. He returned to the dugout, where he exchanged, according to Rojas, socially distanced fist bumps and high-fives.
“Obviously, he’s still in that progression baserunning. That’s one of the things that we want to see if we can start implementing that into the game,” Rojas said. “Ces keeps looking more in control each day, doing the progression and following everything that performance staff is having him do . . . The games that we’re playing now, he is going to benefit a lot and we have a lot of intrasquad games [next week].''