Bill Madden: Steve Cohen and the Mets need to give their top prospects a shot at the big leagues

TAMPA, Fla. — To hear Steve Cohen tell it the other day, the Mets’ farm system is more “stacked’ than ever before and the future couldn’t be brighter. But when will they allow it to be?

If there has been one common thread to this Mets spring training — other than the growing suspicion it might be the last for Pete Alonso — it’s that their core of top-rated prospects — position players Drew Gilbert, Jett Williams, Ryan Clifford and Luisangel Acuna and pitchers Christian Scott, Blade Tidwell, Mike Vasil, Dom Hamel and Nate Lavender — have all pretty much been kept under wraps under the cautionary flag: No promotions before their time.

It’s highly unlikely any of the position prospects will see time at Citi Field before September and the preference is for the pitchers to get another full year in the high minors, although both Scott and Vasil are deemed closest in the inevitable event of a starting pitcher going down with an injury.

That’s the new philosophy of David Stearns & Co. Too often in the past the Mets have rushed players to the majors only to have them fail and never recover. This present group was not given a chance to compete for a major league job this spring and if Met fans traipsing to Port St. Lucie in hopes of getting a glimpse of the “stacked” minor league system prospects Cohen was talking about they were disappointed. Cohen and Stearns have made it clear this is going to be sort of a transition year for the Mets and they’re staying the course with last year’s group — with one notable exception as they signed J.D. Martinez to be the fulltime designated hitter. This meant another player who thought he was going to be part of the Mets’ future — Mark Vientos, who’s led the team in homers this spring — will likely be going back to Triple-A.

What seems to be happening is, Cohen hasn’t given up on the Mets somehow making the postseason, despite the presence of the Braves and Phillies in their own division, while Stearns and his analytics team want to find out if Brett Baty is their third baseman for the foreseeable future, Tylor Megill has developed into a reliable and consistent middle rotation starter and just how much they’ve got left in Starling Marte.

Definitely an assessment shift from last September when previous GM Billy Eppler executed the two salary dumps of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, netting Gilbert and Clifford from the Astros for Verlander and Acuna from Texas for Scherzer. At that time then-manager Buck Showalter predicted that Acuna had so much talent that he could wind up at second base for the Mets at some time this year while scouts seemed unanimous that the 5-9 multi-talented Gilbert probably needed only another half-season Triple-A.

Meanwhile, I continue to be told by Mets insiders that Stearns and the analytics corps are against re-signing Alonso, who strikes out way too much for them, walks too little and is barely adequate defensively at first base. On the other hand, they love Juan Soto, who’s led the league in walks the last three years and has almost 200 more hits than strikeouts lifetime (as opposed to Alonso’s 635/650). It’s believed the Mets plan to have the 20-year-old lefty-swinging Clifford play first base at Double-A this year — which they will be monitoring closely.

With both Alonso and Soto playing for a big contract, and both being represented by Scott Boras (who’s had a bad winter), this is shaping up as a fascinating internal debate for Cohen and the Mets, First off, Soto is going to have to prove he can play in New York, but assuming he continues on track as the dominant left-handed hitter in baseball, Boras is going to want to make him the highest paid player in the game

On the other hand, Alonso is beloved by the Citi Field faithful and loves playing in New York. If he has another 40-plus homer season, he too, will be demanding Freddie Freeman money ($27 million per) as the highest paid first baseman in the game. There is no way Cohen would seemingly be able to sign both Soto and Alonso — not with the 110% competitive balance tax attached to both contracts. But even though he’s got plenty of highly regarded outfielders coming through the system now, his analytics people still want Soto. Will he listen to them or listen to the fans?

It’s an internal debate that will go on all season long.