PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
Ronny Mauricio has outlasted four general managers and one ownership group during his six-year tenure as a Mets top prospect despite hearing his name routinely tossed around in just about every potential trade scenario.
Too often, holding on to a highly coveted youngster this long — Mauricio, 21, was signed as a 16-year-old for a then-club- record $2.1 million in 2017 — tends to result in diminishing returns as his original blue-chip value erodes because of unrealized potential. But the opposite could be happening with Mauricio.
A breakthrough performance in the Dominican Winter League and the high number of WBC vacancies on the Mets is setting up a career-shaping opportunity for him during the next month.
The jury is still out on where Mauricio will end up position-wise. He officially is listed as a switch-hitting shortstop, but his 6-3, 222-pound frame tends to project him as a third baseman or maybe even a corner outfielder. But with a surprising agility for his size and a silky- quick release, Mauricio is going to get plenty of Grapefruit League looks at shortstop while filling in for the absent Francisco Lindor, the only downside of that being the missed chance to continue the mentorship Lindor provides.
Mauricio, who has filled out considerably since showing up as a rail-thin teenager, seems to tower over Lindor (listed at 5-11) but is nowhere close to 6-7 Pirates phenom Oneil Cruz, who shared the left side of the infield on the Tigres del Licey club this winter. Mauricio played just about all of the Dominican winter season at shortstop but slid over to third when Cruz showed up for the playoffs.
While the Mets intend to keep Mauricio at shortstop — GM Billy Eppler won’t commit to which level he’ll start at in the minors this season — they gave Licey the green light to play him at third at their discretion.
Mauricio played 27 games at short, nine at third and one at second during the Dominican regular season, but the real story to his winter was what he did at the plate.
Facing mostly older competition, Mauricio batted .287 in 46 games, ranking first in the league in doubles (15) and RBIs (31), second in home runs (five), third in stolen bases (10) and 10th in OPS (.803). Licey won the championship and Mauricio scored the winning run in the extra-inning walk-off victory in Game 5.
“It was a great experience playing in the Dominican Republic,” Mauricio said Thursday through an interpreter. “It’s a special thing. The adrenaline is high. Thank God I was able to stay healthy, I was able to play the season and I was able to stay focused the entire way through.”
Staying locked on the strike zone seems to be the top priority in his ongoing development, but the power is definitely there, and one team official pointed out that roughly half of his 26 homers in 126 games for Double-A Binghamton last season came on pitches that were out of the zone.
That doesn’t seem so bad from a practical standpoint. They wound up on the other side of the fence. But the bottom line is that Mauricio’s plate discipline needs to be tightened up (123 strikeouts last year), and as he makes better decisions on pitch selection, he’ll get more barrels and greater exit velocity on a consistent basis.
The other physical tools are there. Mauricio is easy to find during the defensive drills among the smaller infielders, and the loud crack when he makes contact stands out as well. That wasn’t as noticeable in his previous camps, and the upcoming Grapefruit League schedule could be a continuation of the damage he did over the winter.
“I’m stronger now,” Mauricio said. “I’ve also matured. And that’s good with the experience I’ve been able to get. That’s the biggest thing — to be able to get the experience needed, to get the reps. Playing in the Dominican helped me a lot with my maturity, just with my preparation on an everyday basis. I think that goes a long way, especially when you come here and you’re around other big-leaguers.”
Mauricio ranks sixth on the Mets’ prospect list, according to MLB Pipeline, and this spring training is huge, with the club’s decision-makers anticipating another jump in his development. Lindor may have the shortstop position blocked for the next decade, but Mauricio could always force his way into the third-base conversation, especially if Brett Baty is slow to improve defensively.
Either that, or when July rolls around, Mauricio could find himself the subject of the usual trade chatter. At this rate, he is going to get his major-league shot. It’s just a matter of where, and his value could be at an all-time high this season.
“I’m not worried about that,” Mauricio said. “Those are things that I can’t really control. What I can control is to go out there, play strong and play hard. I can’t focus on those other things. My main goal is to make it to the big leagues, so I have to keep focusing on that. Everything else that’s out of my hands, I try not to think about.”
Mauricio should be getting plenty of attention in the weeks to come, and that could pay off before too long, either with the Mets or another team.