Perhaps no one was more excited to get going with the Mets' first Spring Training workout than Luis Rojas. The new Mets manager revealed as much while meeting with the media after New York's return to the field Wednesday morning in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
"Getting here today early, I joked and told the guys earlier, I've been wearing this uniform since like 5:30 in the morning," Rojas said with a laugh. "So it's been a really exciting day for me and that's probably the most fun, just getting here and getting all the guys in one room, being able to talk to them, communicate about what we're going to be doing out there and then going out there and executing it. I mean, I've got to give credit to the coaches. They did such a good job just keeping the stations that we had going on active. From the sides, from the throwing program and to the defensive stations that we had, they were all very energetic and they were all very well coordinated. Time wise, it was a great job by the coaching staff today."
While all position players set to join the pitchers, catchers and others already on the ground at Clover Park, the Mets are already off and running. Rojas recapped the opening day's slate and looked forward to the rest of the week, with the following takeaways from Wednesday's press conference setting the scene.
On Jacob deGrom...
Jacob deGrom has aspirations of securing a third straight NL Cy Young Award after earning the honor in consecutive seasons from 2018-19. Rojas, who crossed paths with deGrom earlier in their careers while both were climbing up the Mets' farm system -- Rojas as a manager and deGrom as a pitcher -- discussed why he believes his ace right-handed pitcher is capable of that ambitious feat.
"First of all, his talent," Rojas said. "It takes me back. I had the privilege of managing him in the minor leagues and first impression of seeing him -- I met Jake before, but I never saw him perform -- and getting him midpoint of the season in Savannah was unbelievable. That talent matched up with his level of competition, the way he competes, from Day 1. I saw it out there today. He gets very competitive. We're working on picks and he got very competitive about it, to get better at it. That's how he is, that's his demeanor and that's how he's so good."
Sometimes that means protecting deGrom from himself. With communication key, Rojas plans to keep a balanced approach.
"Always great communication with all the players," Rojas said. "That's my intent. That's the way I've managed before and the way I intend to manage the guys. One of the most important things that we're going to imply. So communicating going off the field and coming off the field between innings, communication in-game and my take on the things that I'm seeing, my feel from the human factor, what I'm seeing and I know it's going to go well. We're going to have conversations where there's going to be challenges. We might not agree because that's just how it goes in a season, but he's always -- we think about what's best for the player."
On first workout...
As previously mentioned, the Mets reported Monday to Port St. Lucie with pitchers and catchers. Some position players voluntarily arrived with the rest of the team set to report Friday, and Rojas believes the Mets are setting the tone throughout the first few days.
"I'm excited about the day," Rojas said. "We accomplished a lot. It's a big step we wanted to take on the field. And even before that, we talked about the purpose of this thing that we're going to do out there. And for the guys to go out there and deliver is the big day that we were anticipating happening. So now, we're building up on that, having this consistency these next four days ... keep setting the tone so, when the position players come and join camp, they're up to speed with where the pitchers and catchers are right now."
On building relationships...
With the Mets at the major-league level in 2019 as a quality control coach, Rojas is already personally connected to players on the team. He placed a premium on his relationships up and down the roster, though -- even with the minor-leaguers -- as the spring gets going.
"Well, it's always important to know him personally," Rojas said. "A lot of the guys, I try to connect to. Some of the guys who weren't on the team here last year in the organization before. I try to connect with them in the offseason and get to know the person, build the relationship and then know their expectations. So it's been good, it's worked for me really well and I think we can meet in our plans -- what we have as an organization, plan for the player -- and what they have for themselves. So that starts our journey going and that's what we can make sure our job is really easier."
On Dom Smith...
One of the more intriguing options coming back to the Mets after an injury-decimated 2019 season, Dom Smith comes back healthy and ready for a fresh start. Rojas worked directly with Smith in the outfield last year and, with first basemen Pete Alonso entrenched as an everyday starter, provided insight into what the Mets are expecting from the left fielder.
"Dom's versatility is so valuable -- that type of versatility, playing different positions," Rojas said. "And I talked yesterday about the depth on our roster -- as far as position players, a guy that can play, guys that can play different positions -- Dom is one of them. And we talked a little bit. I worked with him in the outfield last year, he responded really well to drills and you know how smoothe Dom is with his glove. So he's really easy to work with, as far as defense. So today in the outfield, me, J.D. (Davis) and him talked a little bit about last year. So I saw him move very well there, balls off the bat. The wind kind of took a lot of balls over the fence, but he looked good, reacting off the bat there. So we'll keep looking at his versatility. That brings a lot of value to the team."
"Dom's got a great defensive ability, and I think he did a good job in the offseason," Rojas added. "We talked about him working movement and agility, and I think, like I said, I saw him taking some good steps off the bat, being efficient on some routes there, even in a couple of balls that came off the bat. And I like him to keep that versatility and keep growing more in the outfield, like he's doing."
On Luis Guillorme...
Getting back into the swing of things, on-field drills saw a bit of a scare when Luis Guillorme got hit in the face with a ball thrown in his direction while he was not ready. Rojas explained what happened before revealing that the reserve infielder was fine.
"I wasn't there at the moment, but I'm aware of what happened," Rojas said. "I saw Luis and we spoke. He's OK. So I believe he was on Field 1, they were throwing to the bases and ran in, threw a ball and thought he was looking, he wasn't looking and hit him. But he hit after that, so he got cleared to hit. He's fine. Had a little cut in his left eye ... on the side of his left eye. So he's good. He's fine. He hit afterwards."
On Drew Smith...
As the Mets bullpen comes together, Drew Smith is a possibility, but where exactly? With Smith getting back into the flow of things after missing the 2019 season's entirety due to Tommy John surgery last March, Rojas broke down how he views his right-handed reliever early on.
"This is his first bullpen," Rojas said. "The other day, he was very excited and he had many emotions that day. So I'm happy for him, that he's in a progression right now. I don't know about the timeline. So we'll have to see how he goes and our performance group will have more feel of his progression, as far as that date. But no timeline right now for him."
"Obviously, we'll have to get there and see how he's feeling," Rojas added. "He's a great asset in our bullpen, a couple years past. When we got him via trade, he actually joined us in (Double-A) Binghamton. Really fun to watch, great stuff and that's a guy you can see throwing different roles in the bullpen. He can do different things with his repetoire -- fastball, curveball, changeup, mid-90s and deceptive with the front-side glove thing he does. So he can be very versatile, also, for us in the bullpen."