The big names make a lot of news in spring training, but the players you don’t know have compelling stories as well.
In the New York Mets’ spring training game against the Astros on Wednesday, David Thompson replaced Jeff McNeil in the sixth inning. Most people don’t know the first thing about Thompson, but I’ve crossed paths with him.
Last February, almost exactly a year ago, Thompson stood in the batter’s box in a spring training game against the Astros. The Mets, with two men on, were losing by three. And with one swing, Thompson pulled a ball into the left-field bullpen and tied the game.
I was thinking about David Thompson Wednesday even before he came in. I thought of him when Ryan Cordell hit a solo home run in the fourth inning, and when Max Moroff singled in the fifth. It’s not Thompson himself: It’s spring training and the many, many players for whom it’s not just a tune-up, but a precious chance to play.
Obviously, most Mets fans will focus on the parts of spring training that will translate to the regular season. How does J.D. Davis look on defense? Is Edwin Diaz’s slider breaking sharply?
But beyond the major-league players, there’s another story playing out. Almost every day, a minor league player steps up to the plate and takes what is almost a major-league at-bat. It’s not quite a debut, but it’s a chance to take the field with major-league players and pitchers, and it’s something that, for career minor leaguers, doesn’t happen all that often.
Moroff and Cordell, it turns out, aren’t the best examples: Both have some scant MLB experience. Cordell has appeared in 116 games over two seasons, and Moroff has appeared in 104 games over four. But even after less than a week, spring training is rife with examples of players who have never played a major-league game before, and may never come particularly close, but are shining on the fields of Port St. Lucie.
Tuesday, Patrick Mazeika hit two doubles against the Cardinals. Mazeika, 26, was an eighth-round pick in 2015. Last season, in Binghamton, Mazeika put up a .738 OPS with 16 home runs. In January, he celebrated his first wedding anniversary. He and his wife have a dog that will melt your heart.
Also against the Tigers, Will Toffey singled in the sixth. Toffey, 25, came to the Mets from Oakland in the 2018 Jeurys Familia trade. He played with Mazeika at Binghamton last year, where he batted only .219, walked 50 times in 91 games, and put up a .347 OBP. Toffey says he has won a few pie-eating contests and calls himself “gregarious.”
Meanwhile, Monday against the Nationals, Ali Sanchez doubled in the seventh. Sanchez is still young: He is 23 and reached Triple-A last season. He’s been in the Mets’ system since 2014, and looked solid last season in Binghamton, posting a not-bad-for-a-catcher .337 OBP. “Work hard and quietly,” his Instagram bio reads in Spanish, “and let your success make noise.”
Sunday against the Cardinals, Quinn Brodey singled in the eighth. Brodey, 24, is a third-round pick out of Stanford in 2017. The day he was drafted, his entire family put on Mets caps.
“Thank you to the New York Mets for giving me the opportunity to continue chasing my dreams,” he wrote. “Excited for the next chapter! Also shoutout to my grandma for rocking the heck outta that hat.”
Against the Marlins Saturday, in the spring training opener, Ryley Gilliam pitched a scoreless, hitless sixth inning. Gilliam had a promising 2018 season in Brooklyn after being drafted in the fifth round out of Clemson. In 2019, though, he faltered as he moved up the ladder; he reached as high as Syracuse, but posted a 13.50 ERA there in 10 games. He did, however, strike out more than 13 batters per nine innings. In January, he traveled to fellow Mets minor leaguer Tommy Wilson’s wedding and documented the entire thing in an impressively filmed and edited 12-minute video.
Mazeika, Toffey, Sanchez, Brodey, Gilliam… I hope they all make it to Queens one day. But maybe none of them will. Baseball is tough that way. Those 26 roster spots let 26 dreams come true, but behind them, many more are left incomplete and unfulfilled. They may never be more than minor leaguers, kids who love baseball more than anything but never quite made it all the way.
But already, those five have come close: They’ve put on the Mets uniform and taken the field. They’ve played for the big league club, even if it didn’t count. So watch some Patrick Mazeika highlights. Read up on Ali Sanchez. Shoot Ryley Gilliam a like and subscribe. Chances like these don’t come around often. It may be spring training, and it may not last, but today they’re all Mets. So root for them like the future depends on it.