PORT ST. LUCIE — Jake Mangum grew up in a football family, and he tries to bring that sport’s mentality to the baseball field.
“Just play every single game like it’s my last,” Mangum, an outfielder who reached Double-A Binghamton last season, said Tuesday at Mets minor league camp. “I’m confident that anyone who has ever watched me play through a period of time would agree that if it’s a groundout to the pitcher, I am going to give you my best effort to first.”
Mangum’s father John played nine seasons in the NFL with the Bears as a defensive back in the 1990s after a collegiate career at Alabama. An uncle, Kris, played tight end for the Panthers, and Jake Mangum’s grandfather John played defensive tackle for the Patriots in the 1960s.
Jake Mangum stopped playing football early in high school to concentrate on baseball. The 25-year-old’s first breakthrough at the professional level came last year, when he slashed .285/.337/.454 with nine homers and 47 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 84 games for High-A Brooklyn and Binghamton.
Earlier this week, Mets director of player development Kevin Howard mentioned Mangum as the player — beyond the organization’s top six or seven prospects — he is most looking forward to watching this spring.
“He’s been here for the last two months at the complex; nobody is going to outwork him,” Howard said. “He’s got a lot of natural ability. I just really think that he’s a guy that people have underestimated and I think he is going to emerge as one of those top seven guys before the year is over.”
At Mississippi State, Mangum got drafted three times. The first call came from the Yankees in the 30th round of the 2017 draft. Mangum returned to school and was selected by the Mets in the 32nd round of the ensuing draft. Mangum again returned to school and after his senior year was selected in the fourth round by the Mets in 2019.
“I wasn’t too shocked I came back for my senior year,” Mangum said. “It hurt my feelings, sure. I didn’t necessarily want to, but I was thankful for my fourth year at State for sure. I am very thankful [the Mets] took me in the fourth round. That is very kind of them and I hope I have made them proud so far.”
Mangum struggled in 53 games for Brooklyn in 2019, but dedicated the next spring and summer — the pandemic wiped out the minor league schedule — to changing his swing.
“I had a great college career, but it wasn’t what professional teams look for,” Mangum said. “It was a very slap-the-ball, get-on-base approach, and a lot of people didn’t ever think I would ever translate into a professional hitter. I am thankful that in 2019 short season in Brooklyn I didn’t have the year I wanted.
“Last year early on I showed signs of hitting the balls harder, but I didn’t have the right approach. I am thankful to the Mets, midway through July they sat me down, they said, ‘We like what you are doing, it’s there now, but how can we change that approach?’ And whenever I change that approach now it’s great.”
Nick Plummer and Khalil Lee are outfielders on the 40-man roster ahead of Mangum as organizational depth. Whether Mangum begins this season at Binghamton or Triple-A Syracuse, it’s clear he could be in the conversation at some point if the Mets need an outfielder.
It probably doesn’t hurt Mangum’s case that he shares Mississippi State as an alma mater with manager Buck Showalter. Others in the organization with Mississippi State roots include prospects J.T. Ginn, Cole Gordon and Rowdey Jordan and area scout Jet Butler, who signed the four players.
“[Butler], everyone he is bringing in seems to be the right fit, not just good baseball players … he’s able to find the right guys for the organization, the clubhouse, just that are all trying to fight for the same thing, to win championships if we can get there,” Magnum said. “And Buck Showalter is a legend. His name just speaks for itself.”