PORT ST. LUCIE Jose Reyes has been there, done that as a young star shortstop in New York. So perhaps his prediction of greatness for Amed Rosario, the next big thing for the Mets, is more meaningful than all the praise you hear from scouts and team executives.
That guy is going to be a superstar, Reyes said Monday, smiling as always. I love the way he plays.
In major league spring training for the first time, Rosario is quickly making a strong impression, not just with his defense, which has been touted as brilliant since signing out of the Dominican Republic at age 17, but his bat as well, after a breakout season in 2016.
Terry Collins did a double-take on Sunday when Rosario hit a batting-practice pitch off the top of the so-called batters eye, the blue background that extends some 30 feet high above the 400-foot mark on the center field wall.
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That was eye-catching, Collins said. Looks like hes got a good arm, good hands. I cant wait to see him play.
Collins will get a look here in spring training, but Rosario, at age 21, probably wont be a factor for the Mets this season. Barring injuries, particularly to Asdrubal Cabrera, Rosario is likely to spend the season in Triple-A, but if he continues to progress as quickly as he has in the last 12 months, he also figures to move in as the starting shortstop in 2018.
Hes coming fast, says a scout who saw a lot of Rosario last season. Hes got a great feel for the game so he makes adjustments quickly. Hes the real thing.
His bat began to catch up with his glove last season. He got better after being promoted to Double-A Binghamton, hitting .341 with 21 extra-base hits and an .874 OPS in 54 games.
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As a result, Rosario climbed to the top of the various prospect lists this winter, getting ranked as high as the No. 3 overall prospect in the minors by ESPNs Keith Law, who said Rosario has MVP potential.
For the Mets, then, Rosario is the rare blue-chip position-player prospect, their most acclaimed since Reyes and David Wright came along more than a decade ago. The Sandy Alderson regime has built a championship-caliber ballclub around young pitching, while waiting for results from Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, and Dom Smith, high school kids taken with first-round picks from 2011-13.
Certainly Michael Conforto, the 10th pick in the 2014 draft out of Oregon State, made a huge impact in 2015, and still has star potential after a sophomore slump-year, but he didnt get nearly as much prospect hype as Rosario.
Seeing him up close here in Mets camp, you cant help but be struck by his size for a shortstop. Hes 6-foot-2, and says he weighs 190 pounds after putting on 10 pounds doing strength training here this winter at the Mike Barwis training facility that is part of the Mets complex.
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He said that gains in size and strength helped him hit for more pop last season.
Ive been working on that since last year, he said through an interpreter on Monday. Going to Barwis (offseason workouts), that really helped me out. Im going a little more power stuff. I wanted to put on a few pounds.
Rosarios size, combined with his athleticism and quick hands and feet, make him stand out even while doing routine defensive drills on the field. Evaluators say he also has a feel for the game that you cant teach.
Reyes, who played several games at third base alongside Rosario last summer at Double-A after signing with the Mets, said, hes young but he plays like a veteran.
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Mets assistant GM J.P. Ricciardi makes a similar point.
His athletic instincts really enable him to be on a different level than some people, Ricciardi said. Some guys are good athletes but dont understand how to play the position. His athleticism, along with his mental capacity, is going to give him a chance to be ahead as a young player.
Ricciardi says Rosario has shown the most growth as a hitter, gradually learning to be more disciplined at the plate.
Thats our biggest challenge with him, Ricciardi said. Last year he showed a better idea of the strike zone. As hes learning it, hes becoming a better hitter.
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Thats encouraging because hes showed not only does he have the physical skills but he has the mental capacity to take whats being presented to him and try to carry it out into the games.
Hes got all the tools youre looking for, hes going to have power down the road, and he plays with a smile on his face. Hes fun to watch.
Rosario seems to make a good impression on people in the clubhouse as well, one reason Reyes has become something of a mentor to him.
Rosario, in turn, said Reyes, also from the Dominican Republic, has been the shortstop he watched most and tried to emulate while growing up as a kid. He smiled when he was asked what he thought of Reyes saying he has superstar potential.
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Its always a pleasure hearing that kind of thing, he said. But I just leave it in the hands of God and trust that.
As good as he is with the glove, Rosario said hed rather get a big hit than make a dazzling defensive play.
But everybody talks about your defense, I said.
Yes, but I like batting, he said. A lot.
If he keeps hitting, theres isnt much doubt hell be the Mets shortstop for years to come.