Sometimes I wonder where would the Mets be right now if they had only started the season with Juan Lagares as their Opening Day centerfielder as I had hoped all along.
As he tore up Triple-A pitching to the tune of .346/.378/.551 while playing the best centerfield I’ve ever seen since Carlos Beltran was in his prime, it frustrated me to see the parade of scrubs, journeymen and Quad-A players the team paraded in center for the first month of the season while this gem of a player was being largely ignored.
Finally, Lagares got the call, but unfortunately he spent 32 of the next 40 games rotting away on the bench, even though in the games he did play, he showed flashes of brilliance in center field and the hint of something special offensively.
By the end of May, the same know-nothings who called me out for referring to Lagares as a legit prospect were already calling him a waste of a roster spot given his .171 batting average after 50 sporadic plate appearances. But I hung with him… I had seen and heard enough about him from Wally Backman and Luis Natera to know the Mets were setting him up to fail by bringing him up only to get six at-bats per week. Just another classic botch job…
Terry Collins was even talking about giving Justin Turner and Josh Satin playing time in the outfield in June, but nary a word about Lagares possibly getting some extended play to show what he was really capable of..
But injuries and atrocious play took their toll on the team and forced out of desperation, Collins had to lean on Lagares. The kid responded as I knew he would. Additionally, the team overall began to play better as a whole.
Now, in the midst of a month that has seen him lead the Mets with a .357/.404/.548 slash line, the doubters are all changing their tune and chief among them is Lagares’ main protagonist Terry Collins.
“There is no reason he shouldn’t be out there right now,” Terry Collins said when asked if Lagares was ready to play every day.
“I can’t tell you how hard this guy works,” Collins said. “He takes early batting practice every time we have early BP. He works on something. He shags in the outfield and he is already an outstanding defender, but he works on it every day.”
Back in early April, I got into it with one of the SNY producers on Twitter asking him why don’t you ever mention Juan Lagares and why do you harp on Brandon Nimmo during every broadcast? “Nobody wants to hear about Juan Lagares”, he told me. “Average Met fans only care about Wheeler, d’Arnaud and Nimmo, that’s it.”
SNY now has Juan Lagares on their radar I’m happy to say. Even Gary Cohen stating, “was this kid really here all this time?” And Ron Darling chiming in with. “Imagine where they’d be if they realized his superior talent two months ago.”
Happy to report that Juan Lagares is now the Mets’ everyday center fielder.
The 24-year old rookie who many were ready to push aside is establishing himself as the center fielder they’ve been looking for since Tron was shipped off. Yesterday, Lagares went 4-for-9 during the team’s day-night doubleheader, with a walk, an RBI, three runs scored and two stolen bases while batting leadoff in place of Eric Young Jr.
“We said before the game, ‘God, he gets on, it’s gonna be a plus for us. Well, he got on four times,” Collins said. “It was a tremendous game for him.”
That .171 average he closed out the month of May with is now up to .268 for the season, and suddenly nobody is downplaying what this kid can do anymore. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him finish the season with a batting average somewhere in the .280-.290 range. Not bad for a rook who definitely knows his place.
Is Lagares the be-all, end-all at center field? Is Lagares the longterm solution at center field?
The answer is I have no idea… But what I do know is what I said in April about Juan Lagares being the best center fielder the Mets have in their system, is true enough thus far. Lets keep hoping his bat, speed and defense continues to evolve and win games for the Mets.
“Lagares at number 21? Are you nuts? You guys are the only ones who ranked him that high. It says all I need to know about this site. Lagares is not a prospect”