The days are getting longer with daylight and the temperatures are rising, which means Spring Training is just around the corner in Florida and Arizona. That also means that the heated battle for third base begins for the 2023 New York Mets, as the failure to come to terms on a deal with Carlos Correa. Correa would have been the man posted at the hot corner, but now the Mets have a three-player battle. They have the veteran Eduardo Escobar who struggled in the first half of 2022 but turned it around late in the second half, battling it out with rookies Brett Baty and Mark Vientos for the starting third base job.
Currently, heading into the 2023 season most would give the edge to Escobar as the starting third baseman as he was the man manning the hot corner most of last year. Escobar had a Jekyll and Hyde 2022 campaign. Coming out of the gate he struggled in his opening season with the Mets. Escobar was supposed to add some pop to the lineup, but he was unable to pack a punch with only hitting one home run in April and two in May to go along with many hitless days at the plate. In 362 plate appearances in the first half of the season, he had a .224 average, 11 home runs, and 40 RBIs, which forced the Mets’ hand into making a platoon role between Escabor and Luis Guillorme until mid-August.
Then Escobar suffered an oblique injury and Guillorme strained his groin within days of each other, which opened the door for the Mets to call up one of their top prospects Baty to take over third base duties. Baty brought some excitement to the Mets as he homered in his first game in the majors, but the injury bug came calling for Baty by the end of August as he tore the UCL in his thumb, which ended his season. With Guillorme still out with a groin injury, the Mets were forced to go back to Escobor as the full-time third baseman going into September, and this time he answered the call going on a tear. He was able to reach back to find what the Mets originally saw in him, which landed him his two-year 20 million dollar contract. Escobar went off in September by slugging .596 with a .982 OPS while mashing 9 HRs and 25 RBI.
If Escobar is able to carry over the end of the 2022 season into Spring Training and the opening month, he will be able to solidify his hold at the hot corner, but if he does struggle in Spring Training or April; Baty and Vientos will be waiting in the wind to take over. As of right now, going into Spring Training it seems to be Escobar’s job to lose.
Baty joined the Mets on August 17th and fans were ecstatic with the call-up of one of the organization’s top prospects. In the heat of a pennant race, Baty started with a bang hitting a two-run homer against the Braves in his first major league at-bat which gave the Mets a 4-0 lead and help prevail them to a 9-7 win. Over his short stint before his injury, Baty started every game except one. He held up strong defensively at the hot corner but did struggle at the plate overall in his 11 games as he batted .184 with 2-HR, 5-RBI, and a .244 OBP. Granted he struggled overall but seemed to be finding his groove at the plate as he had a hit in each of his last four games before his injury.
Now that Baty has his feet wet with what it is like to be playing in the show, I believe he will start to excel. He is fully recovered from his UCL tear, and he put a lot of work in during the offseason including working with former All-Star third basemen Troy Tulowitzki to help him improve his game, especially on the defensive side. Baty can truly push Escabor for the third base job as he has all the tools (contact, power, arm strength, and range) to win the starting job.
Vientos is also in the mix for the hot corner, but at this time he seems to be the long shot behind Escobar and Baty. Vientos was called up in mid-September getting to play in 16 games getting two starts at third base while being the DH in seven games and pinch-hitting in seven other games. In 36 AB, he batted .167 with 1 HR, 3 RBI, and a .286 OBP for his short stint in the majors. The Mets have moved Vientos around in the minors and majors from third base to first base to the outfield to designated hitter in order to find a spot for him as they see Baty as the future of the hot corner.
As the Florida temperature rises throughout the month of March, so will the heated battle for the Mets starter at the hot corner between three great players. Escabor is already established in the majors and Baty and Vientos are trying to bust down that door and make a name for themselves at the major league level. It is going to be fun to watch spring training games as the three battle it out. It will be exciting to see who steps up and who smolders out as the month of March moves along toward Opening Day.