New York Mets: The failed growth of outfielder Juan Lagares

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Juan Lagares
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Juan Lagares /

Early on in his career, the New York Mets viewed Juan Lagares as a starting center fielder. He never developed beyond his career sophomore season, instead he regressed further every year after.

When Juan Lagares debuted for the New York Mets in 2013, the franchise was fighting to come out of the black hole it sunk into. After the collapse of 2008, the Mets played losing baseball. This continued into 2013 and even 2014 when Lagares won a Gold Glove while representing the Metropolitans.

On April 2, 2015, the Mets made the decision to commit to Lagares long-term. In his mid-20s and coming off a productive year in the field and at the plate, they were hopeful he could become a uniquely talented center fielder capable of flashing leather and providing them with good offensive totals. With a deal that would last through 2019 with an inflated total of $9 million in 2019, it was a potentially team-friendly contract if Lagares continued to develop further.

He never did.

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Lagares played okay for the Mets in 2015 but fell well short of expectations. His slash line numbers dropped significantly, ending with a .259/.289/.358 total. Paired with superb defense, though, it was manageable.

The 2015 season was special for the Mets. For Lagares, it was also his last chance at a full season with the organization. In the years which have followed, Lagares has either suffered lengthy injuries or seen his playing time cut short due to performance. In his first three big league seasons, Lagares surpassed 400 plate appearances. From 2016 until the present day, he has only reached the 200 mark once.

Some hoped Lagares’ final year in 2019 would end on a high note. After all, in his 64 plate appearances in 2018, Lagares hit .339/.375/.390. Everything looked promising. Maybe at 29, he was finally becoming the versatile offensive player we hoped he had inside.

An early season-ending injury derailed his campaign and in 2019, he hasn’t been the same. Lagares will be lucky to hit above .200. He has been so bad this year that his OBP is below his .254 batting average.

To make matters worse, Lagares is no longer a plus-defender. His fielding percentage is below average as are his range and other metrics. Whichever statistic you want to look at, Lagares is having a miserable year in the outfield.

Lagares’ 2014 season was easily his best. A career-high in hits, RBI, and batting average all gave hope of an even better path ahead. His inability to draw a walk definitely hurt. In around 2,000 plate appearances, he has yet to reach 100 walks.

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The Mets saw something in the younger version of Lagares which included more promising years ahead. Those All-Star worthy years never arrived. Instead, he becomes one of those many athletes who peaked early and slowly faded away from the starting lineup and onto the bench.