A Fan Shot by Michael Mandelkern
Eric Young Jr. is not an ideal leadoff hitter. He is the best candidate on the New York Mets, but that is not saying much. Once Juan Lagares returns, Young Jr. should not even be in the conversation as an everyday player.
Since Young Jr. made his MLB debut in 2009, he only exceeded 100 games once (in 2013). Last year he posted an underwhelming .249/.310/.336 slash line. Young Jr. was a spark when he was traded to the Mets last June, but he became an automatic out down the stretch.
As of April 22, Young Jr. was hitless in eight games. He struck out in 19 of his first 65 at-bats and is hitting just .231 with a .636 on-base plus slugging. Throughout his career, Young Jr. is a .256 hitter with a .659 OPS.
His defense does not hurt the Mets, but it is not impressive. Young Jr. is able to cover ground with his speed, but his read of the ball’s trajectory is poor at times and nowhere near the level of Lagares. Young Jr. also has a weak throwing arm that is not even in the same stratosphere of Lagares’ cannon.
Despite his shortcomings, Young Jr. is tied for first in MLB stolen bases with 10. He makes the most of his time on the base path, but does not get on board often enough to justify playing him everyday.
Before he suffered a tight hamstring, Lagares was locked in with a .314/.345/.471 slash line in 51 at-bats. He was off to a hot start and only time will tell if he can sustain his heat wave.
No one in the Mets outfield, or arguably the entire National League, holds the defensive prowess of Lagares in center field. He is running, feeling good, and is expected to be activated from the disabled list on April 30. He needs to start everyday once he returns to the lineup.
Yes, Young Jr. was the 2013 National League stolen base champion, but he would be most valuable in spot starts and as a pinch runner. Lagares cannot sit on the pine.
On April 14, the New York Post reported that the Mets were going to mix and match the outfield once Chris Young was activated from the disabled list on April 18 and Lagares is healthy. The plan is to rotate between Young, Young Jr. and Lagares with Curtis Granderson solidified in right field, even though Young Jr. is the weakest link.
“I wouldn’t say [Lagares] is going to be in there necessarily more than anybody else, because I’m going to get each of those guys a blow every now and then and try to keep them fresh,” said Terry Collins on April 14, according to the article.
Young Jr. should only start if another outfielder is injured or needs rest. The outfielders do not all possess the same level of talent, so they should not all get the same amount of chances.
Lagares must be endorsed as the everyday center fielder. Speed kills, but only if Young Jr. gets on base.