Brett Baty putting in work at third in hopes of sticking with Mets
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
Brett Baty’s path back to the majors, and perhaps a long future playing third base in Flushing, continued in earnest Monday morning behind the stadium at Clover Park.
It was there, alongside fellow prospect Mark Vientos, that Baty endured a relentless volley from the bat of infield coach Joey Cora under the watchful eye of bench coach Eric Chavez, himself a six-time Gold Glove third baseman.
This is expected to be the most important spring training of Baty’s young career, and at age 23, the former first-round pick (12th overall) should have the opportunity to make a game-changing impression in the next few weeks.
Two factors got Baty to this point. The first was the Mets’ decision to ultimately rip up their $315 million offer to Carlos Correa, a 12-year deal that would have essentially bolted the door on third base and likely resulted in Baty being shipped out of New York eventually. Correa, who wound up signing with the Twins, had become an obsession for Mets owner Steve Cohen, but once his questionable ankle tanked the deal after days in limbo, Baty bungee-jumped right back up the depth chart again.
“You always want to get an All-Star on your team,” Baty said Monday. “I wasn’t thinking, don’t get him because I want to play up there. I’m thinking, let’s get him so we can win a World Series with him. But we didn’t end up getting him, so my focus shifted back to third base and I feel like I’ve been doing a really good job over there.”
Baty also will get more Grapefruit League chances in spring training because of the first World Baseball Classic since 2017. The Mets are losing their entire starting infield to the WBC — third baseman Eduardo Escobar is playing for Team Venezuela — so that opens up plenty of reps for Baty, who said that will be a huge boost for his development.
Baty earned his August call-up last season by hitting .315 with 19 homers and a .950 OPS in a combined 95 games at Binghamton and Syracuse. His mission now is to show he belongs from the jump.
“I think it’s going to be really beneficial moving into the season,” he said. “I’m not really putting any pressure on it.”
Baty spent 11 games with the Mets last year. He homered in his first major-league at-bat, but the dream ended abruptly when he suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb that required season-ending surgery. He told me Monday that the thumb is fine — he’s a full-go for spring training — and that he already has been in Port St. Lucie for nearly three weeks working out, among the first Mets at any level to arrive at the complex.
Much of the emphasis will be on Baty’s glovework, and manager Buck Showalter said this winter that defense will be the separator in evaluating his prospects. The plan going into spring training is to have Baty focus on third base rather than splitting time in the outfield — he played 11 games in left last season in the minors — because that’s what will allow him to stick in Flushing.
“Just like all these young guys, I want to see how they’re going to fit defensively,” Showalter said. “Whether they’re able to take a step and be impactful offensively, that’ll shake itself out. But where they are defensively — can you play them when they’re trying to figure out pitching at the major-league level? If they’re not able to defend, they’re not going to get that benefit of the doubt.”
Baty seems keenly aware of that, and the fielding workshop with Cora and Chavez is a crucial part of the process. Whether it was being slammed at third base by Cora drilling soft tosses at him or peppered by line drives at close range, this was all about the quick reaction time between feet and hands necessary to succeed at third base in the majors.
“I think the speed has a lot to do with it,” Baty said. “You can’t really replicate it unless you get reps. But I need to work on a lot of things, honestly. I need to work on keeping my head still. I need to work on seeing the ball all the way into the glove. I feel like my arm can play from just about anywhere, so for me, I feel like just fielding it, catching it cleanly, taking my time, knowing how much time I have with the runner, is really crucial for me. So just kind of slowing the game down.”
Whether or not the Mets fast-track Baty back to the majors will be up to him. Cohen’s impatience to win a World Series on his promised five-year plan resulted in that failed flirtation with Correa, but he’d be just as happy with a homegrown solution at third base. Probably more so. And now Baty has another shot to convince him.