The Post’s Mike Puma breaks down the biggest storylines to watch ahead of Mets spring training:
Battle for the best position
Brett Baty should be considered the favorite to win the opening third base spot early in camp, but Mark Vientos will have an opportunity to compete for the job. Vientos has been considered a defensive project, but team officials are encouraged by the work he has done this winter and remain optimistic about his offensive potential. Baty struggled last season — he may have been rushed to the major leagues after his quick departure to Triple-A last April and the Mets’ need at third base — but showed glimpses of someone who can end the merry-go-round at the position that began with David Wright’s injuries at the end of his career.
Most Intriguing Minor League Player
Eyes will be on Luisangel Acuña this spring as he attempts to show that he is poised to potentially help the Mets, who acquired the 21-year-old infielder last July as part of the trade that sent Max Scherzer to Texas. Acuña — whose older brother Ronald was the National League MVP last season with the Braves — is widely considered the organization’s No. 3 prospect, behind Jett Williams and Drew Gilbert. There’s a chance Acuña starts the season at Triple-A Syracuse, perhaps putting him in the conversation for a late summer call-up to the major leagues. On the mound, the Mets will want to thoroughly evaluate right-hander Christian Scott, who has emerged as the organization’s top prospect.
Story to follow
The Mets whiffed on their pursuit of Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who opted to sign with the Dodgers. That left the Mets with an offseason infusion of starting pitchers consisting of Luis Severino, Sean Manaea and Adrian Houser, all of whom bring question marks to the staff. If the Mets want to compete, they’ll need respectable seasons from Severino and Manaea in particular. Can the Mets keep Severino healthy and return him to the star form he displayed at various points in his career with the Yankees? Can Manaea maintain the uptick in velocity that helped him enjoy a strong second half last season with the Giants?
The manager’s toughest challenges
Carlos Mendoza is a rookie manager thrown into the cauldron of leading a largely veteran team with a rabid fan base. The former Yankees bench coach will be tasked for the first time with having tough conversations with players irritated by playing time or their position in the batting order or starting rotation. He will then have to explain his decisions to the media, by organizing press briefings twice a day. There will definitely be a learning curve.
The most intriguing newcomer
Severino has a high-level arsenal, but the right-hander needs to show he can stay healthy. The first step for Severino will be surviving spring training – a stretch of the calendar in which he has a history of physical breakdowns. The former Yankees star arrived on a one-year contract worth $13 million, one of the Mets’ first offseason signings.
Most notable absence
Ronny Mauricio was expected to compete for the third base job during spring training, but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Even though Mauricio didn’t win the starting job, the Mets viewed him as an important piece who could bring power and athleticism to the lineup. If Mauricio – who underwent surgery to repair his knee – plays this season, it likely won’t be until September.
Don’t be surprised if this becomes a problem
Pete Alonso is entering his walk year and could command an elite prospect or two at the trade deadline if the Mets stumble and look to recharge their batteries for 2025. The Mets have shown a willingness to trade stars this year last at the deadline, but neither Scherzer nor Justin Verlander was the home favorite that Alonso became. President of baseball operations David Stearns could face a big decision after the All-Star break.
The greatest comeback
Edwin Diaz sat out his freshman season after receiving a five-year contract worth $102 million rehabbing following surgery to repair a torn patella tendon in his right knee. The injury occurred in March during a World Baseball Classic celebration, dealing a gut punch to the Mets before their season even began. Now, Diaz is back intent on showing he’s still the elite presence that has become the best in the game in 2022. “Narco” will once again blare through the speakers at Citi Field, but Diaz will be able to will it regain its past glory?