PORT ST. LUCIE — J.D. Davis began last season playing third base, but the Mets aborted that plan early because of a combination of factors.
Significant among them was Davis appeared overmatched at the position. Left field became his new home, and he survived but hardly thrived, allowing the Mets to keep a potent right-handed bat in the lineup.
Davis, who arrived in an unheralded trade with Houston before last season, appeared in 140 games and posted an .895 OPS while emerging as an important piece of the clubhouse fabric.
Now, with spring training underway, the Mets are giving Davis another shot at third base, at least on a part-time basis. It’s a flexibility they may need given the fragility of their infield.
The plan, according to infield coach Gary DiSarcina, is for Davis to practice 50 percent of the time at third this spring — even if his playing time in Grapefruit League action, which begins Saturday, might skew differently.
DiSarcina traveled to Sacramento, Calif., this offseason to work with Davis, imparting a new approach. Instead of crouching, as he was previously at third, Davis was told to stand more upright.
“Every coach had told me to try to stay low to the ground, so we basically flipped it to more of a tennis player being on the receiving end,” Davis said Tuesday. “I’m a little more upright, and it’s helped me kind of do a small jump before the ball comes to home plate and that way my feet are more set on the ground, and that has helped me out with my reaction time of reading baseballs and reading tough hops, and it’s been working out perfect for me at least for that situation.”
Jeff McNeil is the Mets’ primary third baseman, but he’s also a top option to play second when Robinson Cano needs a day off. Last season Cano incurred three stints on the injured list and appeared in just 107 games. Jed Lowrie, another veteran infielder, missed almost all of last season and arrived at camp as a huge question mark physically.
That leaves Davis as somebody who could receive significant action at third base.
“He needs reps in a game, and he’s going to fail,” DiSarcina said. “His first couple of spring games he might make two or three errors because he is trying something new, trying to incorporate a new technique into his game, and he’s going to have some rough spots, and it’s up to us as an organization to kind of deal with that. I just don’t want him falling back on his old habits of getting too low.”
DiSarcina is also working to improve Davis’ throwing. Last season, Davis displayed a hitch at third base that led to inaccurate throws.
“He would rush throws and try to show everybody how good of an arm he had. … I am so proud of him since Sacramento he’s worked on his footwork and ability to get under control instead of constantly throwing on the run and trying to throw it as hard as he can,” DiSarcina said.
“Sixty percent for him is good enough. It’s going to keep his arm in a better slot, his feet moving, he’s going to follow his throw and be headed toward his target. Instead of fielding balls, running with it and throwing as hard as you can and losing accuracy. We are trying to clean him up and he’s done a lot of work on his own.”
Davis’ playing time in left field figures to hinge largely on Yoenis Cespedes’ status. The veteran outfielder has been participating in team workouts, after missing the past 1 ½ seasons rehabbing from surgery on both heels and multiple ankle fractures sustained during an encounter with a wild boar on his ranch. But at this point there are no guarantees Cespedes will be ready to start the season.
“It’s the same situation as last year, where was I going to fit and everything, but it’s a good thing to have so much depth on the team,” Davis said. “If anything goes south or Cespedes comes back or whatever then I’m back to whatever helps the team out, I guess. There’s nothing much I can control.”