Mets plan for top prospect Drew Gilbert to stay in center field throughout spring: Could he be Harrison Bader safety valve?

Drew Gilbert Mets
Drew Gilbert (Screenshot)

Carlos Mendoza’s praise was high for one of the Mets’ top prospects, outfielder Drew Gilbert, ahead of his spring training debut on Monday.

“He can play anywhere. He’s got speed, he’s got the arm, and he’s a gamer,” the Mets’ manager said (h/t SNY). “This is a guy that’s going to get the baseball and run through walls. Special player, special talent. He’s capable of playing all three positions in the outfield.”

The 23-year-old Gilbert, who is a top two or three prospect within the organization, is preparing for his first full season in the Mets’ organization after being the centerpiece of the return from the Houston Astros in the trade involving Justin Verlander last summer. 

Gilbert was the Astros’ No. 1 prospect, slashing .241/.342/.371 (.713 OPS) with six home runs, and 20 RBI in 60 games with Houston’s Double-A affiliate before he was sent to New York. In just 35 games with the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies, he matched those six home runs and posted 21 RBI while slashing .325/.423/.561 (.984 OPS). All the while, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound prospect showed more than enough mettle to thrive in center field, which is his natural position. 

It appears as though a call-up to the majors is on the very near horizon for Gilbert. He will start the 2024 season in Triple-A and is expected to make the jump to the big leagues this year even with the numerous options David Stearns has collected in the outfield. 

The Mets signed Harrison Bader, who is expected to start the campaign with the lion’s share of playing time in center field given his defensive prowess. That allows Brandon Nimmo to flex to left field from the center-field role he held for the better part of the last four seasons. 

Bader’s offensive abilities are a major question mark, however, and an inability to produce at the plate could eventually limit his playing time. Nimmo could go back to playing center field while the combination of DJ Stewart, Tyrone Taylor, or even Jeff McNeil could platoon in left.

Given Starling Marte’s injury-riddled 2023 season and there are plenty of avenues for Gilbert to break into the majors. But Mendoza doesn’t seem all that interested in seeing what one of his best prospects can do in the corners.

“As we speak, we’ll probably concentrate on center field with him,” Mendoza said on Monday.

That provides as long a look as possible for Mets brass this spring to see how Gilbert can cut it up the middle. If they’re confident in his abilities out there, a strong start to the Triple-A campaign coupled with less-than-desirable production from the big-league lineup and Gilbert could be patrolling center field in Queens sooner rather than later.

For more on Drew Gilbert and the Mets, visit AMNY.com