I went to down to spring training for the first time this past week and was able to catch three games in Port St. Lucie and Jupiter. It was exciting to see some of the younger players I’ve only seen video of, and basking in the 75-plus degree weather of Florida was enjoyable. I’m far from being a big league scout, but I did make some observations and took some mental notes on some of the players.
I liked what I saw from Bartolo Colon‘s first start and also noticed Travis d’Arnaud‘s swing looks a bit long and slow right now. But for me, one thing truly stood out. Juan Lagares is tremendous in center field, and there should be no debate over who should be starting in that spot come opening day.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like Eric Young, Jr. He not only has blazing speed that gives any infielder fits, but he’s also one of the friendliest guys in the clubhouse and in the organization. He’s a great guy to have around, just not the starting center fielder.
I understand he is one of the fastest guys in the league, but that should not make him the every day center fielder. I did see him squeak out a few infield hits in the games that I saw him play this spring, it’s just that .325 career OBP does not really do it for me. I like having him on the roster as a complementary outfielder and backup second baseman, just not in the lineup day in and day out.
Mar 11, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; New York Mets center fielder Juan Lagares (12) makes a catch against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 9-8. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
You can make the argument that Lagares hits just as little or even worse than Young, and his .242 batting average and .281 OBP from a year ago supports this. The young outfielder has been known to be a bit impatient at the plate and swing at some pitches outside the strike zone. While this might be true, his defense is some of the best I’ve seen in the Mets outfield in a very long time.
We all know that he put up the incredible season defensively last year with his 28 defensive runs saved and 15 assists. This spring I was looking to see if he could keep this up, and so far from what I’ve seen, he’s exceeded my expectations.
Zack Wheeler took the hill last Sunday against the Braves and got into some early trouble. With B.J. Upton getting a single to center, the Braves had back-to-back hits, and appeared to get a runner at least into scoring position. Andrelton Simmons decided to try and go first-to-third on the hit up the middle. What he didn’t expect was the ball to be in David Wright‘s glove five seconds before he even started his slide into third. Lagares had picked up the hard grounder and proceeded to throw a strike to Wright’s chest to gun down Simmons for the second out.
I was in awe. I had watched Lagares do this time and time again last season on TV and at games I went to at Citi Field, but to see him look like he was in mid-season form in early March made me wonder why people are questioning who should start on opening day in center.
On the final day I was in Florida, I saw the Mets take on the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Despite it being a different setting, Lagares stayed true to form and made the spectacular look routine. One a shallow fly ball hit to center, Lagares came flying in and sprawled out to make a fantastic grab to rob a would-be single. The Cardinal faithful, many of whom did not know Lagares, could not believe the catch that was made in front of their eyes.
To help his cause, Lagares has hit the ball well so far this spring, compiling a .320 average and .346 OBP. It’s hard to put stock into spring stats, but these numbers definitely don’t hurt his cause.
With all of that being said, I still don’t understand why there is a debate at all. Young is good asset to the team, but Juan Lagares is one of the premiere defenders in Major League Baseball and should be the starting center fielder on March 31st. I hope Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins take note and make the right decision before going back north.