Mets’ versatility has Luis Rojas non-committal on defensive alignment

Luis Rojas
Mets manager Luis Rojas
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets are a far deeper team than they were last year thanks to as busy an offseason as the franchise has had in recent memory.

That’s a good thing for first-year manager Luis Rojas, but it also creates plenty of uncertainty surrounding his starting lineup heading toward the 2021 season — especially with the National League still being without the designated hitter — as spring training officially began on Wednesday.

“We would like to have the DH, we talked about it earlier in the offseason. We’d have guys who would benefit from it,” Rojas told reporters via Zoom. “They’d probably get more playing time because we have so much depth in our roster right now. Being where it is right now, we have to get ready at our best… and have those guys who could potentially be a DH be ready for the field right now.”

During his availability Wednesday, Rojas was not willing to commit to a starter at any of second base, third base, left field, and center field.

As of now, none of those positions have a clear option that provides a well-rounded blend of both offense and defense.

In left field, Dominic Smith is poised to see a bulk of his at-bats from that position as he continues to adapt away from his natural spot at first base — where he is a defensive upgrade over Pete Alonso, but won’t be able to usurp him from that spot until the DH is made available.

“Dom’s versatility has always been important to us. We’ve talked about him playing first and playing left,” Rojas said of the young left-hander who had a breakout campaign in 2020. “That’s something we’re looking at to maintain… As of now, today, he’ll be playing more left field than he will at first base.

“We’re comfortable with his defense. He has a good feel, he plays hard.”

But Rojas also admitted that Brandon Nimmo could see time at any of the three outfield positions; mainly center field and left field considering Michael Conforto is secure in right.

Nimmo is a natural left fielder who was thrust into the center-field role due to the Mets’ lack of depth — especially on the defensive end — at the position. They missed out on George Springer and have varying degrees of interest in Jackie Bradley Jr., but the Mets brought in Albert Almora and Kevin Pillar as defensive alternatives for Nimmo.

“I know he spent more time in center last year and he was able to go to left at times when we made some changes later in the game,” Rojas said. “But with Dom in left, Nimmo can be our center fielder with different lineups… There are ways of putting Nimmo in different places.

“He’s a great offensive player, he gets on base, he can hit for power… so we’re looking to keep him on. I can’t commit either way right now on how it’s going to happen right now. We have to see how spring training goes.”

That sentiment continued with JD Davis, whose defense at third base has been a hot topic of conversation throughout the offseason. Team president Sandy Alderson made it clear that he wasn’t satisfied with his defense at the hot corner, Smith in left field makes third the only reasonable spot for Davis to get continued at-bats.

“It’s just really tough right now to commit to any role,” Rojas said. “I have to stick with our versatility. JD has played left and we’re thinking of that. We may see him playing a lot more third base than left field but we want to keep that versatility always open. Multiple guys are going to play multiple positions.

Jeff McNeil also looks to be included in that grouping even though Robinson Cano’s suspension opened up a spot for him to play at his natural second base.

Rojas admitted that “we’re going to see different guys” at the position with Jonathan Villar and Luis Guillorme as utility infielders and defensive upgrades from either McNeil or Davis.

“In a camp like this, you want to give everyone a chance to play at their positions to see if they can give us an upgrade defensively,” Rojas said. “I’m very excited to see everyone participate in camp and playing the multiple positions they can play.”