Jeff McNeil is expected to play all over the field for the New York Mets in 2019. Minus a true position, the shuffle could hurt his production at the plate.
At the beginning of the 2019 offseason general manager Brodie Van Wagenen had “penciled in” Jeff McNeil to be the opening day second baseman for the New York Mets. However, after a flurry of moves, the Mets have made two notable additions to their squad which has all but eliminated McNeil’s chances to be a regular in the infield.
Robinson Cano and Jed Lowrie are both obvious favorites to start in the infield in 2019 over McNeil given that each is a veteran with a track record of consistency. The Mets organization has also invested much more into Lowrie and Cano compared to McNeil, suggesting they are ranked higher on the totem pole regardless of performance or even the “meritocracy” culture Mickey Callaway endorses.
McNeil was a breakout star toward the end of the 2018 season who slashed .329/.381/.471 in 63 games. During which he showed flashes of plus power, speed, and defense. A much-needed bright spot for the offensively anemic Mets, it seemed McNeil would become a staple in their lineup.
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But alas, his everyday position in the Mets’ lineup is now very much in question. The infield is now bursting with a plethora of talent, including Cano, Lowrie, Amed Rosario, Todd Frazier, and incoming first baseman Peter Alonso. This leaves McNeil without a home.
Van Wagenen has shown an affinity for McNeil already, pulling him out of trade discussions with the Seattle Mariners and replacing him with two promising young prospects instead when they acquired Cano and Edwin Diaz in December, 2018. So, it’s fair to say the Mets hold McNeil in high regard and plan on making him an integral part of their future.
The plan, it seems, is to utilize McNeil all over the field, including the corner outfield positions. There is no doubt that McNeil is an athletic player capable of being moved around the field, but being a player without a position may prove to be a challenging task for the youngster.
For one thing, McNeil had to claw his way into the major leagues. After years of mediocre performance in the minors and back to back seasons in which he spent most of his time injured, he managed to finally catch some attention. The fact that McNeil’s success carried over into Triple-A and then the majors is nothing short of an inspiration.
But, apparently, he hasn’t done enough. Instead of nurturing what could be a very promising career for McNeil, the Mets plan on making him as uncomfortable as possible. McNeil, like fans, has no idea how many at bats he can expect to receive in 2019. He probably doesn’t know which positions he’ll play, how often he’ll play at said positions, or if he is even capable of handling the outfield.
We’re all very confused as to what McNeil’s role will be in 2019 and that is not a good thing. Success in baseball has a lot to do with confidence and comfort. Lowering both of these factors for McNeil is putting his performance at serious risk.
I agree with the theory that a ball player should be ready to go at all times and prepared to make no excuses going into a season. However, we’ve seen this story before. The Mets shuffled Michael Conforto around the batting order, field, and between the majors and minors so much that he struggled to find his footing for a while. I believe the same thing could happen to McNeil.
I’m not saying the Mets should baby him, but it’s hard for anyone to be a super utility and produce on both sides of the ball, especially such a young player with limited experience and a few question marks like McNeil.
McNeil is a talented player who has proven he can perform at the highest level. I am excited to see how the Mets implement him in a fluid capacity and eager to see how well McNeil handles the pressure of being a man without a position.
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I wouldn’t be surprised if McNeil maintained positive offensive and defensive numbers despite the obstacles he faces. However, it would come as no shock to me if McNeil’s lack of a defined role hurt him to a point of negative contribution to the Mets in 2019.