PORT ST. LUCIE — While Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark visits each team’s spring training camp in March, one of his most pertinent stops is in Port St. Lucie, where he spoke with players in a closed-door meeting before briefing the media on the current state of labor relations.
Between Pete Alonso‘s impending promotion and Brodie Van Wagenen’s transition from agent to general manager, there was plenty to discuss.
Clark, who played 125 games with the Mets in 2003, clearly empathized with Alonso’s service time situation.
“As someone who came up in September of 1995 and didn’t find my way back to the big leagues until June of the next year, seeing what players are going through with their service time being manipulated has been and will continue to be a concern,” Clark said.
“I hope that Pete continues to do what Pete has always done, and I hope that he does have an opportunity to break the squad as a result of the production that he’s offered in spring training. And I say that despite the fact that I am a little partial to first basemen,” said the Newton, Kan., native whose 1,211 games at first base rank within the top 100 in MLB history.
While Alonso’s play alone through 12 spring games — .371/.421/.743 with three home runs — warrants a spot on the opening day roster, it remains to be seen whether Van Wagenen’s pledge to take the best 25 players north will ultimately include the 24-year-old.
Clark’s stance, however, is unwavering: “The concern is that the best players are on the field at all times. That’s something we believe is in the best interest of all involved.”
He also briefly touched on the topic of Van Wagenen’s move this winter from the players’ side to the league’s.
“As that transition happened there were conversations between us and the league and the league and the team, all of which were designed to make sure that everyone understood the parameters that everyone was going to function within moving forward,” Clark said.
Left-handed reliever Luis Avilan closed out Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Houston Astros with a clean ninth inning, striking out his ninth batter of the spring. In 7.2 total innings, Avilan has yet to walk a batter and sports a 2.35 ERA.
While Mickey Callaway can’t commit to naming him a member of the opening day bullpen with still two weeks of camp left, Avilan’s skipper has been thoroughly impressed with what he’s seen.
“The changeup is filthy,” Callaway said after the game. “He might be our best reliever against right-handers right now. They can’t hit it, it’s unbelievable. I was telling Dave [Eiland] that I’ve never seen so many swings and misses from a left-on-right [matchup].”
Avilan is only 29, but he brings a wealth of experience. His inevitable first appearance with the Mets will be his 400th as a major leaguer. He excels at the little things that separate the Quad-A relievers from the specialists who make 60-plus outings for pennant-winning clubs, as Avilan did with the Dodgers in 2017.
“He throws the ball over the plate, gets ahead, and he sets his pitches up, which has probably been the most impressive thing to me,” Callaway continued.
What might Avilan’s role be with the team, should he break camp and head north? “The way he’s pitching this spring, we’re not going to be timid in running him out there.”