Ever since Jeff McNeil debuted in 2018, nobody has known where he will play long-term. The New York Mets super-utility man, McNeil has seen playtime at second base, third base, both corner outfield positions, as a designated hitter, and as a pinch hitter.
However, where will he fit in on the team moving forward? This off-season will mark his first in arbitration, meaning he is still under team control until 2025. Certainly, his versatility is a major plus, but it is about time he found a home in the field.
Here is where McNeil may land defensively in 2022…
Second Baseman Jeff McNeil?
Naturally, second base would make the most sense. Over his career, he has played second base more than any other position, playing 166 games there. When at second, he has a defensive run saved mark of nine and a fielding percentage of .984%.
Obviously, the numbers do not lie when saying McNeil belongs at second, because they are just that much better compared to other spots in the field. Except, the return of Robinson Cano complicates things.
McNeil has played 63 of his 67 games at second because of Cano’s absence. The eight-time All-Star baseman has been sidelined this year after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. While Cano and his contract are off the books in 2021, he will return in 2022.
Barring the addition of a universal designated hitter, Cano will be the Mets starting second basemen entering his age 39 season. Thus, leaving McNeil needing to move elsewhere to get into the field.
Third Baseman Jeff McNeil?
Who knows how the Mets front office will look to address third base in 2022? This season, a platoon of J.D. Davis and Jonathan Villar have done a modest job holding down the fort. Then again, they have not shied away from searching for potential upgrades in the past.
On the team, McNeil makes some sense. He has six defensive runs saved when playing the hot corner in 46 career games there but also has seven errors. At the same time, there are some more flashy names that could play third instead.
Maybe the Mets re-sign Javier Baez and play him at third, while Francisco Lindor mans short. Baez’s numbers have not been great since being acquired two weeks ago, but the energy he brings to the field equals his All-Star upside.
Or could the Mets look to one of their top prospects to play third? Their number two prospect Ronny Mauricio could be majors ready as soon as next year and could move to third given Lindor plays his shortstop position. Brett Baty, who has been groomed for the hot corner, is the most logical long-term solution and could be on the team in 2022.
In other words, McNeil will likely find himself back in the outfield next season.
Left Fielder Jeff McNeil?
The last time McNeil played left field came in 2020 when he played 28 games in the outfield. He saved six defensive runs while fielding .978% of balls towards him. Despite his solid play in left, New York may not even need McNeil out there.
In 2021, Dominic Smith has finally found a home in the field away from Pete Alonso’s first base. Smith has become a serviceable left fielder, with only one error to his name and a .981 career fielding percentage. He may have only saved one defensive run, but his offensive output makes him a must-have in the everyday lineup.
Right Fielder Jeff McNeil
Therefore, Jeff McNeil will most likely be back in right field in 2022. Michael Conforto is unlikely to ink a massive contract anywhere, and chances are Steve Cohen and company will want to spend that money elsewhere. Especially considering the former All-Star is barely batting over .200 on the year.
And McNeil playing right field is not an issue either. In 46 career games in right field, McNeil has three defensive runs saved and a .970 fielding percentage. Those may not be numbers that “wow” anyone, but to have McNeil’s .300+ career batting average in the lineup is worth it.
That being said, even though it is not his best defensive position, super-utility man Jeff McNeil might very well find himself playing right field every day in 2022.