How Mets’ Brett Baty’s work ethic helped him improve defensively

February 20, 2023; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets third baseman Brett Baty (22) during spring training. / Rich Story-USA TODAY Sports

PORT ST. LUCIE: From Friday afternoon Brett Baty hadn’t heard the compliment yet Buck Showalter had paid him a few days earlier as the manager said he was watching both Baty and Baty’s defensive improvement Markus Vientos was one of the highlights of spring training for him.

At his locker, Baty’s eyes lit up when I told him, and understandably so. The young third baseman was on a mission to get better than he was with the glove taught by during winter training in Texas Troja Tulowitzki here with vientos to go to the field early every day to take ground balls and do drills with different coaches.

“We grind out there every day,” Baty said with a smile. “I’m glad someone noticed.”

Not that 23-year-old Baty really needed the positive reinforcement. Work has always been part of his profile, growing up in Austin, Texas, the son of a high school basketball coach who believed there was no substitute for long hours.

“He firmly believes that hard work beats talent,” Baty said of his father, Clint. “Well, I definitely like to work hard.”

The work is paying off, it seems. Baty is a natural with the racquet and is undoubtedly fit for the big league in attack, but after his short stint with the there have been questions about his defense meads last season that he seems to be responding well this spring.

He made a handful of very good plays with the glove, reaching well both left and right while showing a strong arm.

While Showalter included Vientos in his praise this week, it matters more as it applies to Baty. He’s swung the bat well enough, hitting .375 in Grapefruit League games so far, to put pressure on the Mets to keep him early in the season.

All along the plan was up for grabs Eduardo Escobar Start the season as an everyday third baseman to see if he can pick up where he left off last season when a late surge saved a disappointing season.

Escobar hit .321 with eight homers in September/October, but even in his hot month, he only hit .240 for the season and just .231 against righties with .681 OPS.

That’s important because Baty is a lefty who could platoon with Escobar at third base and maybe make the Mets stronger, especially against right-handed pitching.

Whether he did enough to force the ball club’s hand remains to be seen, but his defensive improvement makes it harder for the Mets to justify Baty starting the season in Triple-A.

“He looks smoother with the glove on,” a major league scout told me. “He seems more confident now. I saw him a little bit when he came up last year and he seemed a little more insecure, more insecure.”

Baty only played 11 games before a broken thumb ended his season, so he might have gained more confidence the more he played. But he went home to Texas for the offseason, knowing the Mets thought he needed to improve and says his focus over the winter was working with Tulowitzki, the former Gold Glover for the Colorado Rockies, who played in Austin coached U. of Texas team.

“He was very keen to slow down the game,” Baty said. “Really having that body clock, knowing how much time you have over at third base, knowing the speed of the runners so you don’t speed up and rush.

“That really impressed me and helped me a lot. If you look at all the elite outfield players, they always know exactly how much time they have. You are never in a hurry.”

Growing up in Texas, Baty said he always made sure to watch Adrian Beltrea five-time Gold Glover who played for Rangers from 2011 until his retirement after the 2018 season.

“He was great on defense,” Baty said, “and I loved the way he went about his business, how fun he was playing.”

Baty watched for more than entertainment. For a long time as a kid, he thought basketball would be his calling, partly because of his father, but when he got on the collegiate baseball team and played regularly as a freshman at Lake Travis High School, a big school, he realized that he it needed to change its plans.

“I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps,” he said, “but then I realized, ‘I could try that, and I kind of ran with baseball.’ “

He still played basketball for his father on teams that he said played well into the Texas State tournament.

“We had (former NBA center) Otis ThorpeSon, DJ, and (currently NY jet) Garret Wilson in the team,” said Baty, who was just as tall then as he is now. “I played the four-point. I took care of handling the toughest physical duel so DJ could take care of putting the ball in the hoop.”

In other words, Baty did the dirty work. It seems very much in his DNA, which is now evident in his determination to hit hundreds of groundballs a day or whatever it takes to get him into the big leagues to stay.

From the looks of it, the boy is confident he’s ready.

“When I was there last year, I felt like I belonged,” he said. “I only played 11 games, but if you subtract three games from that, I felt like I played really well. I had some hard ABs there in Philadelphia when I felt like I had outgrown myself a bit. But I felt like putting competitive ABs together every night and that was the goal.

“I think the game is the same (like Triple-A), the speed is the same. It’s just the environment. You just have to focus on each place and stay consistent up there. I think sometimes you can overtake yourself a bit thinking about things you can’t control.

“I think everyone should think that they can be one of the best players in the game. I don’t think you will succeed at the highest level if you don’t think like that. Going there with a bunch of confidence and knowing they can’t get you out is a big part of it. That and the work you have to do. I believe in that.”

It’s a philosophy that drives him to maybe be a Met for a long time. The only question is how soon. If Showalter’s praise is any indication, Baty is significantly closer to that goal than he was when spring training began.

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