PORT ST. LUCIE — J.D. Davis began last season in the Mets’ left-field mix and concluded it tethered to third base.
After an offseason in which the Mets considered various outside possibilities to upgrade at third, Davis has arrived at spring training this year as the primary option. The Mets seek respectability from Davis at the position.
The instruction falls on infield coach Gary DiSarcina. Now in his third spring working with the player, this one is different for DiSarcina in that Davis is focused on one job. If Davis is going to play regularly for the Mets, it will be as a third baseman.
“He’s definitely improved from the past couple of years that we had him,” DiSarcina said. “The first year here he had bounced around from third, first, right, left. Nailing it down to one position and getting our early work and extra work in one position is much more specific and much more efficient.”
Davis can only improve after finishing with minus-5 outs above average as a third baseman last season, according to Statcast, which placed him among the worst defenders in MLB. Davis’ strength is a plus throwing arm, but getting the ball into his glove has often been the challenge.
“His pre-pitch is one of his major things that needed to be addressed, and he’s done a good job of being in a better athletic position when the ball is hit,” DiSarcina said. “If you are not in proper position, if you are late with your footwork, if you are early with your footwork, you are just not on time.
“So very similar to hitting when I talk to J.D. I talk to him about when you are hitting and you get your foot down on time, everything works properly. It’s the same on the infield side. When his feet are down and he’s in proper position and in athletic position, it frees him up and allows him to get the balls and use his fundamentals.”
Davis consulted the analytics staff to get a better idea about where he should be positioned. It led to Davis deciding he needed to move in a few steps and not play as deep at times.
The situation dictates the positioning. With Jacob deGrom on the mound and two strikes on a batter, Davis might want to move in, knowing the Mets ace likes to pound his slider in the dirt and that could lead to a broken-bat grounder or topper.
“I think that is where J.D. is learning on the fly the nuances of the position — when to play deep, when not to play deep,” DiSarcina said. “I think at times last year he just kind of drifted around, and I don’t want to say he was out of position, but he was deeper than normal.
“We have worked on him and addressed it, and he saw the data and the graphs and all that stuff from our analytical department, and it’s going to be definitely helpful in positioning and his fielding in general.”
DiSarcina said he’s been “pleased” with Davis’ work this spring. At third the Mets have also used Jonathan Villar, Luis Guillorme and Jeff McNeil, but their hope is Davis will succeed, keeping his solid bat in the lineup. McNeil is considered a better fit for second base, with Villar and Guillorme in reserve roles.
The popular Guillorme, who emerged last season as a dependable backup, continues to impress team officials with his defensive work at multiple infield positions, including third base.
“Instinct-wise, Louie is right there with any big leaguer,” DiSarcina said. “For me the last three years to see him grow and he has just been killing his role of bouncing around from short to second to third. I am almost ready to go to [manager] Louie Rojas’ office and say, ‘Let’s put a first baseman’s mitt on him,’ because you just never know. He doesn’t have the greatest range, but he has smarts that allow him to be in the right place at the right time.”