With most of the Mets 26-man roster populated by established veterans, most of the team appears to have their roles set in stone well before Opening Day. But perhaps the position most up for grabs this spring is third base. Eduardo Escobar returns as the presumptive starter at the hot corner after a Carlos Correa-less offseason for the Mets, but the 34-year-old is on the downswing of his career and has limited upside at this point. Meanwhile, top third base prospect Brett Baty is dripping with upside and appears just about ready to take on a full-time MLB starting job.
The Mets have indicated that Baty is likely to begin the season in Triple-A, but he’s had one of the strongest springs of any Mets hitter so far, raising some questions about where he should begin the season. On top of that, Escobar is heading off to the WBC to play for Team Venezuela, which will leave a lot of reps open for Baty to take with the starters. The 23-year-old has a chance to continue impressing and give the Mets no choice but to carry him on the Opening Day roster.
Also working in Baty’s favor to make the team is that the Mets can’t really manipulate his service time for the first few weeks of the year, since he already logged 50 days of service time last year. He made his MLB debut in August when both Escobar and Luis Guillorme were hurt and famously homered in his first bat, and then accumulated 41 more fairly unimpressive plate appearances before a torn thumb ligament robbed him of any more time in the show last year.
That’s not to say that Baty is an unimpressive prospect or that his 42 PAs last year should give you any pause, of course. He’s still considered one of the best prospects in baseball, with Baseball Prospectus ranking him the #17 prospect in baseball, while MLB.com ranked him the #21 prospect, Fangraphs had him at #23, and ESPN slotted him at #20.
What makes Baty exciting is simple: the guy can just hit. He makes very loud contact, makes good swing decisions, and has an advanced approach. The biggest drawback in his offensive game is just the direction he hits it.
Baty’s ground ball rate, always a little high, spiked to over 60% in Double-A in 2021. He was able to get that down to a much more suitable 42.6% while repeating the level last year, though it popped back up to 53.3% in his brief stint in the majors.
The problem with hitting the ball on the ground nearly 60% of the time is that there are just very few players in today’s game who can manage to be elite hitters with ground ball rates that high. For example, Christian Yelich, a hitter Baty is frequently compared to, has always had high ground ball rates. Early in his career, his ground ball rates were consistently over 60%. But when he was an MVP contender in 2018 and 2019, he lowered his ground ball rates to 43.2% and 50.8%, respectively. The past few years, it’s creeped up back over 55% as Yelich has reverted to being more of a league average hitter.
Yelich also has far more speed than Baty does, which is where the problem really lies. With the way young third baseman impacts the ball and general his lack of speed, he should be more focused on driving the ball into the gaps and over the wall than trying to poke it through the infield. Baty’s early spring training results have been more encouraging in this regard as he’s seemingly pulled pitches for line drives and fly balls more frequently.
On defense, he remains a work in progress. At third base, the 6-foot-3 Baty’s actions are fairly stiff and unnatural. It’s led evaluators to question whether he can actually stick at third base or if he will have to move to the outfield at some point. It’s definitely possible that, if Escobar is performing well or if Baty proves unplayable at third, he could see more time in the outfield and DH for the Mets this season than at the hot corner. He has logged a little over 200 outfield innings in the minors, and reportedly hasn’t been bad there. This was also a point of discussion when the Mets looked like they were going to sign Correa.
So even if Baty doesn’t win the starting third base job out of spring training, there should definitely be a role for him on the Mets for a good chunk of the 2023 season. Whether he’s on the Opening Day roster or not, it won’t be too long before we see the top prospect back in Flushing this year.