We’re nearing the end of our Season in Review here on Rising Apple. Our penultimate player review for 2013 takes a look at one of the most unexpected yet welcome pluses of the season that was: the ascension of 24-year-old Juan Lagares to the starting spot in center field.
How He Handled the Bat
Lagares finished the season with a triple stash of .242/.281/.352, four home runs and 34 RBIs. He also showed flashes of speed, smashing 21 doubles and five triples and stealing six of nine bases.
Lagares was a spot-starter for his first month and a half in the big leagues, which did not help him quickly develop into a big-league hitter. Juan hit just .146 in 48 at-bats through June 1, but once he started seeing regular playing time on June 5, bringing his average up to .222 by the end of the month by hitting .275. His bat really peaked in mid-summer: from July 1 to August 11 he hit .324 with an OPS of .871; his season’s average peaked at .275 twice during this stretch in which he also won the permanent starting job in center field. He hit at about that .270 level for the next month, but the bottom fell out of Lagares’s season from September 8 on, during which he only managed eight hits in 20 games, good for a .111 batting average and .319 OPS.
To say Juan is a streaky hitter would be a more-than-fair assessment. In addition to hitting consistently through the full season, Lagares also needs to work on his patience at the plate: he only drew 20 walks in 421 plate appearances compared to 96 strikeouts. Perhaps a Duke Snider-esque approach to teaching him a strike zone would be beneficial.
How He Handled the Glove
You can take this one away from all the stories of how Lagares was cheated out of a Gold Glove. Juan was a revelation in center field, saving 28 defensive runs in 108 games (88 starts) at that position. Adding in his time split in right field after Matt den Dekker’s September callup, Lagares saved 30 runs in 2013. His 14 outfield assists from center were tops in the National League, and his 15 total were second only to Gerardo Parra’s 17. Lagares also led the league in range factor as both a center fielder and overall outfielder.
Projected Role in 2014
Lagares takes a lot of worry off his pitchers’ shoulders; with such a quality fielder manning center, they are free to take more risks in trying to get hitters out. Keith Hernandez and the SNY crew have been documented as saying that with his glove, Lagares only needs to hit about .270 to make him a full-time major-league starter. If his early performance in the Dominican Winter League is any indication, Juan Lagares is well on his way to becoming the Mets’ center fielder of the future.
Contract Status and Trade Rumors
Lagares was signed by the Mets in 2006 as a 17-year-old free agent, and it will be quite some time before the Mets need to worry about his contract status: he will be arbitration eligible in 2016 and won’t qualify for free agency until 2019. Based on his youth and all-world talent in center field, it would be a shock if Sandy Alderson tries to package him in order to bring other outfielders into the organization. The only exception would be if the power bat the Mets so desperately need comes in center field, but it appears the organization is looking at mostly corner outfielders or shortstops as priorities.
Juan Lagares’s development was one of the top positives for the New York Mets in 2013. Still three or four years from his prime, he should continue to be a positive for the next decade.