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Sam McWilliams could be hidden gem for Mets' bullpen after 15 teams made offer

Mets pitcher Sam McWilliams during a spring training

Mets pitcher Sam McWilliams during a spring training workout Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Sam McWilliams didn’t know what to expect when he became a free agent at the start of the offseason, but he and his agent had a strategy: Make sure teams knew who he had become.

He was 25 years old and a veteran of six minor-league seasons — zero major-league games — but that hardly was the whole story. In the previous year-plus, he had undergone a data- and technology-driven reinvention, helping him throw harder and use his 6-7, 230-pound body better. And the Rays, his organization from 2018-20, had moved him to the bullpen, which seemed to suit him well.

So he and his representative, Brian Grieper of Paragon Sports, offered the relevant information. They had Trackman reports — spin rate and other modern metrics that teams value — and "a little bit of video from some different angles," McWilliams said.

It wasn’t a lot, but without a minor-league season in 2020, it was all they had.

"We tried to get that out as much as possible," the righthanded McWilliams said, "and it turned into what it did."

What it turned into: 15 offers, including more than one for a major-league contract. Now he is competing for a spot in the Mets’ bullpen, impressing with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball, a slider, a changeup and a curveball he discovered while fooling around with different pitch grips in January.

With long blond hair, McWilliams looks like a less-jacked Noah Syndergaard, even getting mistaken for him once. If he can pitch even a little like Syndergaard, that will be a win. 

Grand opening

Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso and Brandon Nimmo will be among those playing in the Mets’ Grapefruit League opener Monday against the Marlins.

The pitching lineup includes Ryley Gilliam, Trevor Hildenberger, Stephen Tarpley and Thomas Szapucki. Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said the Mets are still treating Szapucki — a prospect who has thrown only 90 2/3 innings the past four years, mostly because of injuries — as a starter.

The game is scheduled for seven innings.

The other Francisco

Catcher Francisco Alvarez, perhaps the Mets’ best overall prospect, said he spent the offseason working out in Miami, not in his native Venezuela, for the sake of his career. "In Venezuela, we don’t have the same type of resources that we would have here," Alvarez, 19, said through an interpreter.

A self-described offense-first catcher, he said he is trying to even that out, working on blocking and receiving specifically: "I’ve been working a lot in the bullpen and a lot with the machines to find myself in the right stance to feel more comfortable," he said. "I’ve been getting more and more comfortable with that." 

Extra bases

Albert Almora Jr. on joining the Mets after five seasons with the Cubs: "I want to be a leader. I want to be a guy that guys can talk to, whatever it may be. It might sound silly, it might sound not, but I think I know the type of person and type of player I am, the experiences I’ve been through. I feel like I can help a lot." . . . Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner named reliever Jacob Barnes as an early-camp standout. Barnes, claimed off waivers by the Mets from the Angels in October, is competing for a bullpen spot and is out of minor-league options . . . The Mets added pitching prospect J.T. Ginn to the roster. He is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last March . . . Alex Cohen wore another customized Mets shirt to camp. It read "Wepa," a Spanish exclamation of jubilation.

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