Forget playing during a pandemic being the most unlikely part of 2020.
Instead, it could be Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie both suiting up for the Mets this season.
After seeing Cespedes take Seth Lugo deep during Thursday’s intrasquad game at Citi Field, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen admitted it got him thinking about what the slugger might be able to do this season.
“Last week, we talked about Cespedes and my optimism and I made the definitive statement that [he] can hit,’’ Van Wagenen said during a Zoom call Friday. “What he’s shown here — and everyone saw him hit the home run in the intrasquad game — we’re very excited about what the impact of his bat can be.”
The GM and manager Luis Rojas noted Cespedes needs to prove he can run the bases and play the outfield, but his bat is still there, which Van Wagenen said means the Mets “can start to dream a little bit” about the slugger as he attempts to come back from multiple foot surgeries.
Cespedes isn’t the only fragile Met Van Wagenen believes might be able to contribute if a 2020 season is played during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In that same intrasquad game Thursday, Lowrie doubled to deep center off Jacob deGrom in his first game action since last year.
“We’re starting to get more answers to questions we had when we entered camp,’’ Van Wagenen said. “And Jed is a little like Yoenis, demonstrating the quality of his at-bats has not declined with his layoff.”
But also like Cespedes, Lowrie has several hurdles to clear before he’s actually game-ready after missing most of last season with a mysterious leg injury.
“As he progresses, we’ll learn more about his explosiveness and if he can run and play defense effectively,’’ Van Wagenen said. “But it’s encouraging.”
Rojas didn’t even rule out the possibility of Lowrie playing third base at some point during the 60-game schedule.
But for a player who was limited to seven at-bats in his first season in Queens after signing a two-year, $20 million deal, the Mets will no doubt take some games at DH from the 36-year-old. Jeff McNeil figures to be at third base, unless Robinson Cano, who has not been at spring training 2.0 in at least three days due to unspecified reasons, is unable to go.
“He’s always been able to control the strike zone and work into situations where he gets deep into counts and has quality at-bats,’’ said Van Wagenen, Lowrie’s former agent. “We saw [Thursday], the double off deGrom off a 3-2 count and he worked a walk in his second at bat. You’re gonna have to get Jed out. He’s not gonna get himself out.”
You just have to get him on the field.
The same could be said of Cespedes the last two years. He had surgery on both heels in 2018 and then sustained ankle fractures last year following an accident on his ranch involving a wild boar.
“From a hitting standpoint, we can all agree he’s looking pretty good,’’ Rojas said. “His timing is there [and] the pitch recognition.”
But Cespedes has yet to start running the bases in games and is said to be even further away from playing the outfield.
“He’s been able to participate not only in what other people are doing, but he’s also doing extra work as he tries to rebuild strength,’’ Van Wagenen said. “We’re excited with where he is at this point.”
Rojas is hoping there’s more to come.
“He’s positive and very secure about what he can do out there,’’ the manager said. “Guys’ reaction [to the homer was] just that they know that’s what he can do. … He hit the homer and they said, ‘That’s Yo.’ I’m excited about his attitude. He brings so much to the clubhouse. He’s a great presence. Cespedes is a force. It’s great that he’s in our corner and advancing day-to-day.”