PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — For Ronny Mauricio, a perennial presence on top-prospects lists and still only 20 years old, the major leagues are closer than ever.
During his first spring training as a member of the Mets’ 40-man roster, he is clubhouse neighbors with founts of baseball knowledge. A few feet to his right is Francisco Lindor, the man with whom he shares a position, shortstop, and the reason nobody expects him to play that position for the Mets. In the locker to Mauricio’s immediate left is Robinson Cano, his fellow Dominican who still is respected by teammates despite two PED-related suspensions.
He occasionally has taken advantage of that proximity, including one-on-one conversations with Lindor on Saturday and Cano on Sunday, but it was the latter who was his childhood idol.
Mauricio was born three months after Cano signed his first professional contract with the Yankees. Now, they are colleagues.
“It feels like you’re a superstar like him,” Mauricio said through an interpreter, “when you’re sitting next to him.”
Mauricio is 6-3, 220 pounds and quiet — in the clubhouse surrounded by these veterans, on the field when he is doing defensive drills with fellow minor-leaguers, in the dugout when he is waiting to play late in the Mets’ exhibition games. He hits from both sides of the plate — “nice and smooth,” Cano said — and thanks in part to a strong arm has remained at shortstop despite his growing frame and Lindor’s presence.
But his long-term defensive home is an open question, and the Mets are not in a hurry to answer it. Manager Buck Showalter said they have no plans to give him experience at any spot other than shortstop during camp, because that is where he will play during the season. He recently caught fly balls in the outfield during batting practice, but he clarified that that was just for fun.
Whereas the Mets are having third basemen Mark Vientos and Brett Baty dabble in the outfield, there are no formal plans for such instruction for Mauricio, director of player development Kevin Howard said recently. The thinking is if and when he does change positions, it’ll probably be to another infield spot, which is a simpler change.
“If he plays well in the minor leagues, he’s going to come up no matter what,” said Lindor, who is under contract through 2031. “And I’ll be the first person to say, ‘Bring him up.’ We need people who are going to help us win. We have a great group of guys, but if he’s outplaying somebody and deserves a spot, he’s going to be up here.”
Cano added: “You just gotta be ready for whenever that situation comes at other positions. You just gotta be happy to be in the big leagues. That’s how I see it.”
That is how he sees it, too.
“If it were up to me, I’d still be a shortstop,” said Mauricio, who turns 21 next month. “But if the opportunity presented itself to switch positions to play at the major-league level, I’m open to doing that as well.”
The defensive question was relevant last year, when Lindor was new to the organization, but is more relevant now, since Mauricio finished 2021 with Double-A Binghamton. He is widely considered a top-100 prospect — No. 92 according to Baseball America, No. 67 per MLB Pipeline, No. 51 by Baseball Prospectus — and said his goal is to debut in the majors this season. The Mets would like him to improve his plate discipline before that happens.
“I was asking him: Home run-hitting contest, what side do you hit from? ‘Both,’” Showalter said. “He’s got skills.”