PORT ST. LUCIE — “Flexibility” is this year’s buzzword for the Mets.
Usually, the term has applied to the front office’s battle to keep the payroll contained, without numerous long-term contracts to hamper roster maneuverability. But in 2017, the flexibility the Mets seek might be more related to moving players around the field.
Over the first two weeks of camp at newly named First Data Field, Jose Reyes, Neil Walker and Jay Bruce, in particular, have been discussed as players who might see action at different positions this season. Look no further than the world champion Cubs as the team responsible for putting the roaming player in vogue.
Whether it has been Ben Zobrist moving seamlessly between the infield and outfield or Kris Bryant and Javier Baez playing multiple positions, the Cubs have created a model for others to emulate.
“That’s a blueprint,” manager Terry Collins said Friday. “Do we have those animals? I can’t answer that. That’s why we’re trying to do that with [Reyes]. Even though he’s not 23, he’s real athletic and his foot-speed allows us to use him in different spots. You have got to be athletic to play different spots.”
Reyes will begin formal workouts in the outfield next week, as the Mets attempt to discover if he’s center-field material, as an option behind Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares. The veteran second baseman Walker says he brought a first baseman’s mitt to camp, and he also could be asked to play third. Bruce has been told he will take grounders at first base as spring training progresses.
“If you can play shortstop you can play anywhere on the field,” said Reyes, who became the team’s primary third baseman in the second half of last season despite having no previous experience at the position.
“Next week, they are going to take me out to the outfield. I want to do it, this is something new for me. I want to do it, why not? That’s what I want. I want to be in the lineup, I want to be part of this team, I want to contribute. I am just going to be ready.”
Walker last played third base with the Pirates in 2010 and has not played first base during his major league career. He said the Cubs, with their floating pieces, have glamorized a change that has been occurring in baseball.
“When you look at the injuries that have happened over the last several years to a lot of different teams, I think teams are just trying to cover themselves in any way they can,” Walker said. “You are starting to see more guys that maybe play third, play some first, infielders that play second, short and third.”
Additionally, the Mets have a potential utility weapon in Wilmer Flores, who has played all four infield positions. The Mets are expected to use Flores primarily as a backup at first base against lefty pitching, but team officials value his all-around versatility. Collins also plans to utilize infielder T.J. Rivera in the outfield during spring training.
“Bryant is different, Baez is different,” Collins said. “We’re hoping to do the same thing. You hate to do too much of it, but if you want to give somebody a day off, at least you know you’ve got an adequate replacement. That’s the versatility side of the game that everybody’s trying to do right now.”
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