SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The hot corner may well be the hottest competition of spring training for the Mets.
With uncertainty at third base for 2024, president of baseball operations David Stearns said the Mets will consider external options at that spot — because that is “the responsible thing to do” — but remain curious about their young players, including Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio.
Mauricio, a shortstop who has dabbled at third base and second base, will play all over the infield in the Dominican Winter League in the coming months, Stearns said.
That will be important continued exposure for Mauricio in the context of the Mets’ defensive deficiencies at third last season.
“One of the ways you find or we find out about a player is giving them a chance. And giving them chances,” Stearns said. “So we have multiple young players who have had various levels of success in the minor leagues and who are really talented kids. And at some point they are going to get chances at the major-league level.
“Not all of them can probably get a chance on day one. That’s pretty tough to do. But we have to construct a roster — and we will construct a roster — that provides enough flexibility so that our young talented players do get a chance over the course of the year.”
There was skepticism among previous Mets decision-makers that any of the organization’s youngsters would be viable major-leaguers at third base, at least in part because of their fielding abilities.
Stearns offered a vote of confidence for Baty and Mauricio specifically but acknowledged they will have to improve to be an everyday option there.
Baty was the regular third baseman from mid-May through the end of the season, save for a most-of-August demotion back to the minors because he had struggled so much. His most embarrassing flub came during a July game against the Dodgers when he dropped a pop-up that then bounced off the dirt and hit him in the face.
“There’s no excuse for that. That play needs to be made,” he said afterward.
Mauricio played third only a few games during his September call-up.
“If we go with some of those younger guys, particularly at third base, we’re going to have to challenge them to improve in that area,” Stearns said. “We weren’t good enough there defensively. I think when we’re talking about Brett Baty, Ronny Mauricio, I think they have the ability, I think they have the physical tools to be a little bit better than they showed at the major-league level last year.”
Stearns added of Mauricio: “His tools indicate he can handle it. But you’re right, we haven’t seen a ton of it. He’s going to need some reps there. I think he has the reaction time, I think he’s got the hands. His skill set indicates to me that [he can play there].”
Stearns seemed not to be including Mark Vientos in this discussion. Asked about Vientos in particular, Stearns noted that he is “probably more of a bat-first player.” Vientos has split time between DH, third and first when in the majors.
“Relative to the others defensively, he probably has the biggest step to take,” Stearns said. “But he’s also got potentially a carrying tool with his bat that allows him to overcome some of those other things.”
The Mets have no plans to play any of the above in the outfield, according to Stearns.