On Opening Day this season the Mets sent out Collin Cowgill to patrol center field. While fans playfully said, “More Cowgill” he was far from the center fielder the Mets had in Carlos Beltran from 2005-2011. Cowgill ultimately failed in center, and was shipped to the Angels for a low level minor leaguer. Since giving up on him, the Mets used Kirk Nieuwenhuis and former pitcher Rick Ankiel in center. Both had a few bright spots, but again, neither succeeded for any substantial amount of time.
The Mets called up a young outfield named Juan Lagares. While he initially struggled, his hitting has improved and his glove has shined. With Lagares flagging down nearly everything in sight, the outfield defense was much better than it was to open the season.
With the help of Eric Young, Jr. and Marlon Byrd, the outfield turned from a joke to a bright spot in this now bleak season. With Matt Harvey‘s elbow not cooperating and subsequent DL stint for the young pitcher, the Mets finally made a move dealing Byrd and John Buck to Pittsburgh. This opened up a spot for Mets outfield prospect Matt den Dekker to finally get called up to the big club.
Many saw den Dekker make spectacular plays during Spring Training, gaining attention on SportCenter’s Top Plays. Den Dekker was set back this year with a wrist injury, but has since recovered allowing for the long awaited promotion. Terry Collins said of den Dekker that he will be getting regular time in center. While he does have a great glove in the outfield, the team should not be moving their best defensive outfielder away from the spot where he can cover the most ground.
Since Lagares was promoted, he’s shown that he can play a shallow outfield, and still go back to the warning track to snag down incredible catches. Time and time again, Lagares catches balls which seem uncatchable. Defensive metrics show that Lagares has played like an elite outfielder. He has 23 defensive runs saved, only six behind the Major League leader Carlos Gomez. To add to that his UZR is 14.7. In traditional stats he has a .981 fielding percentage and is tied for the Major League lead in outfield assists. It is obvious Lagares has proven he has the speed and range to play center field.
It doesn’t make much sense to move Lagares from his position. While den Dekker is a great fielder, and does deserve to get some time in center, Lagares’s play merits him getting the majority of the time in center field. Moving a potential future gold glover from his position would not be such a wise decision on the Mets part.