(Left: Amed Rosario #1) (Right: Jeff McNeil #68)
After bursting onto the scene in 2018, Jeff McNeil established himself as a raw hitter who aims to simply make contact every at-bat. He posted a .329/.381/.471 slash line in 63 Major League games. However, he is also a hitter without a set position, and his regular second base job is blocked by the recently acquired Robinson Cano. With that being said, here are 4 ways McNeil can get his much-needed contact skills into Mickey Callaway’s lineup:
1. Jeff McNeil starts at third base
This is the most logical solution to many, but also the least likely at the start of the season. Incumbent starter Todd Frazier has the track record, but he only posted a .213/.303/.390 slash last year. He was also on the disabled list for a lengthy period of time. McNeil spent most of his minor league career on the left side of the infield, so he has the defensive experience. This move makes the most sense, as the Mets get an upgrade at the third base position and McNeil gets the starting gig he deserves.
2. Jeff McNeil starts in the corner outfield
The Mets have a clear hole in the outfield, even with the Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis trades. While they have Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo, the depth trails off from there with the often injured Juan Lagares and no proven fourth outfielder. If McNeil can show that he can play in a corner outfield position, which many inside the Mets organization believe he can, he could be part of a dynamic outfield trio with Conforto and Nimmo. It will be interesting to see how much outfield time he sees, if any, in spring training.
3. Jeff McNeil becomes the ultimate utility man
This theory, which has been publicly endorsed by Mickey Callaway at the Winter Meetings, would make McNeil a Ben Zobrist type player. He would play everyday, but would not have a set position, and would rotate between positions depending on how much rest the starter needs. This is beneficial because the Mets have both young players (Amed Rosario, Peter Alonso) and old players (Robinson Cano, Todd Frazier) which would need rest throughout a full season. However, it remains to be seen how the shuffling of positions would affect his consistency at the plate.
4. Jeff McNeil starts at first base (until Alonso is called up)
This hinges on the prediction that the Mets will wait to call up Peter Alonso until after he gains an extra year of team control, which is most likely. Starting McNeil at first base for the beginning of the season would be a short term solution, but it would give Mickey Callaway time to evaluate how well McNeil and Frazier hit. This could lead to #1, #2, or #3 after Alonso is promoted.
Once the automatic starting second baseman for 2019, Jeff McNeil now finds himself in an interesting spot. While he has many options, there is no clear-cut option. He would be a clear upgrade over Todd Frazier, though it is unlikely that the Wilpons will allow Mickey Callaway to bench Frazier and his 9 million dollar salary. Judging by the Wilpons’ hesitation to spend on an outfielder, McNeil in the outfield could be an interesting solution to both problems. Regardless, Jeff McNeil and his high batting average will make its way into the lineup someway in 2019.