Mets’ J.D. Martinez already sharing tips, starting with Mark Vientos

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The New York Mets signed J.D. Martinez as their designated hitter because his track record of elite production lengthens their lineup and boosts their playoff odds.

But he brings a bonus as a mentor for younger players. That’s why a particular scene at Clover Park on Saturday, the day the Mets announced Martinez’s signing, holds value.

Between rounds of batting practice, Martinez, 36, placed an arm around Mark Vientos, 24, and chatted for a handful of minutes.

For the most part, Martinez talked and Vientos nodded. Martinez related to Vientos’ situation, and told him, “There’s plenty of opportunities, whether it’s here, whether it’s another team, you just go out there and you play your game and you play your hardest and the chips are gonna fall. Talent will always find its way to the big leagues.”

It could have been an awkward encounter. Martinez is helping Vientos but also possibly squeezing him out of a steady role at DH.

But it turns out, Vientos and Martinez have known each other for a while. As a teenager, Vientos transferred to American Heritage High School in South Florida for his senior year. But he spent the previous three years at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Florida, where Martinez graduated from. Vientos said the two initially met when Martinez would return to his old school for visits. Recently, they’ve shared time at Bommarito Performance in Davie, Florida, where both players have worked out.

Vientos referred to Martinez as “just a really, really good dude.”

The Mets agree with that scouting report when it comes to talking hitting. After all, it’s part of the reason he’s here.  A few Mets players and coaches approached him Saturday, gauging his interest in discussing the subject of hitting. That’s all it took. Martinez reassured them that they’d never disturb him with that conversation and told them, “I’m an open book.”

Martinez loves to talk about hitting.

“That’s my passion,” he said. “That’s what I do.”

The Mets didn’t add Martinez solely because of his reputation as a hitting savant, but officials know how much he cares about the topic. In baseball, everyone seems to know about Martinez’s affinity for discussing the intricacies behind the bat hitting the ball.  For a club like the Mets, that’s not an insignificant thing.

The Mets want to operate how the best teams around the league do by simultaneously winning at the major-league level and graduating players from the farm system. In addition to their beefed-up number of position player prospects, the Mets have three young players they want to see develop as consistent bats: Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Vientos.

During their batting practice conversation, Martinez reminded Vientos of his own well-known story. Ten years ago, the Houston Astros cut Martinez. The short version of what occurred next: Martinez then made some major swing changes, became the poster child for what happens when players take ownership of their development and established himself as one of the game’s best sluggers.

Funny, Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns worked as the Astros’ assistant general manager when Houston made the infamous mistake. On Saturday, Stearns could laugh about it.

Martinez told Stearns, “Last time I came in this office with you, it didn’t end well.”

Stearns replied, “Oh, that was a long time ago. Big mistake!’”

“At the time it was the worst thing to me,” Martinez said. “And I felt like the world was falling down on me. But then I looked back and you know, God has got a reason he does everything and that was the biggest blessing for me ever. So I said, ‘Thank you.’”

Martinez can help someone like Vientos by sharing his story and offering swing tips. From Pete Alonso to other players to club officials, everyone around the Mets buzzed with excitement over getting to know Martinez and picking his brain when it comes to hitting. Last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, people knew where to find Martinez: the batting cage. Word is, he was there so often that they had to start a schedule for guys to sign up for cage time. Along the way, Martinez took players like highly-touted young Dodgers player Miguel Vargas under his wing.

Martinez’s openness regarding hitting, his willingness to share — especially with young players — and his relatability to someone like Vientos makes for a nice story.

But it will all matter a whole lot less if Martinez doesn’t do the job he’s getting paid $12 million for 2024 to do, and that, quite simply, is hit.

Martinez joined the Mets less than a week before the season opener, which is Thursday, so he stood in during Adrian Houser’s bullpen session just to track balls. Martinez takes pride in knowing his swing, and that process requires time. After giving his consent, Martinez will be optioned to the minor leagues as a technicality to ensure he gets enough at-bats against live pitching to be ready for the season. The expectation is that he will need around 15 days so he will stay behind in Florida when the Mets depart for New York. In a twist, it’s possible Vientos ends up as the DH for Opening Day.

When Martinez is ready, the Mets need him to be the guy who re-established himself as one of the game’s biggest offensive threats with the Dodgers last season, when he hit 33 home runs with a .893 OPS — not the guy who raised concerns about health and age with the Boston Red Sox the year prior, when he hit 16 home runs with a .790 OPS, his worst mark over a full season since his exit from the Astros all those years ago.

“When I went to the Dodgers, they kind of showed me some things with my body that I wasn’t really aware of,” Martinez said. “The important things for me as I’ve gotten older are my mobility and staying loose. And they kind of addressed that right away when they saw it. They said, ‘Whoa, dude, what’s this?’ They kind of saw some things wrong with the way I was moving, and I started addressing it and then all of a sudden, the ball started flying again.

“I changed the way I trained. I changed the way that I just looked at how I was gonna get ready for a season and how I was going to maintain during a season. They did a good job making me aware of that.”

Fortunately for the Mets, the hitting guru still seems interested in learning.

(Photo of J.D. Martinez: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

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