Mets: When does Jeff McNeil replace Ben Zobrist as an adjective?
By Tim Boyle
For several years, Ben Zobrist has been the player used to describe super utility men in baseball. Soon, New York Mets can-do-anything All-Star Jeff McNeil should take the honor.
There aren’t many modern baseball players who become an adjective. Legends like Cy Young, Cal Ripken Jr., Roberto Clemente, and others can be used to describe the personality or style of play. Eventually, New York Mets utility man Jeff McNeil could replace the Ben Zobrist adjective as a way to describe future scrappy play-all-positions men.
What McNeil has done at the plate is outstanding. He hits like few other players in today’s baseball world. His focus is on putting the ball in play, not driving home runs. He does this at an efficient rate, making him a contender for the batting title already in 2019.
And if case you didn’t notice, with enough at-bats in 2018, he would have won the award already.
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An added bonus of McNeil is how he seems capable of playing any position. The former “exclusive” second baseman transitioned to left field at the start of the season. He has since moved away, leaping over center field and finding a spot in right field more regularly. McNeil has also been an option for the Mets at third base and has gone back to second base several times in 2019.
In half a season, McNeil has played all over the field. You don’t see this often from a guy challenging for the league lead in batting.
Zobrist gained his notoriety mainly for his ability to play all positions. He wasn’t the same type of hitter as McNeil. He smacked home runs a little more often and used walks to bring his OBP up to All-Star levels.
The way Zobrist got into our consciousness was through becoming baseball’s best super utility man. In doing so at a high level with offensive numbers to back him up, he became a unique weapon his teams and fantasy baseball owners loved.
McNeil may not be afforded the same opportunity—which is perfectly fine. I would rather see him stick with one main position anyway. However, in his short career, I think he has already proven he can play anywhere.
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Even if our Flying Squirrel does not replace the Zobrist adjective, I think we could see players described as “a McNeil” in the future. Guys who strike out rarely, put the bat on the ball often, and do whatever is asked of them are locks to draw comparisons.