Juan Lagares has been a saving grace this year for the Mets. Sure he’s saved a ton of runs and seems to shrink the outfield day after day but the true saving grace for Mets fans has been him saving the 2014 season. There hasn’t been much winning but each and every day, Lagares puts on a show and has become the most exciting player on the field for the Mets.
The question surfaced a few days ago about where Lagares actually came from. Signed two years before Wilmer Flores as a non-drafted International free agent, Lagares rose through the farm system as a shortstop before moving to center field. The comparison to Flores is made just as a point of reference. From a very young age, Flores was talked about by everyone from fans to the front office. He was always considered a future elite prospect and his stature grew as he developed in the system.
Each year, MinorLeagueBall.com puts together a list of the top 20 prospects in the Mets system. Flores first appeared on that list in 2011 at the #1 spot. He fell in 2012 to #9 and then went up again in 2013 to #4. If you read deep into the 2012 list, you’ll find Lagares at #20. Here’s what the site had to say about him:
Quick bat, improved plate discipline from abysmally awful to merely poor and hit .349/.383/.500 as a result between High-A and Double-A. This was at least partially driven by unsustainable BABIP gains, and I want to see more before buying into him.
The grade they gave him was a C+. In 2013, Minor League Ball had him listed in the “others” section, no longer considering Lagares among the top 20. 128 days after the 2013 article was published, Lagares made his big league debut, going 1 for 2 against the Dodgers. He hasn’t looked back since.
This is in no way an indictment of MinorLeagueBall.com. No one saw the potential in Lagares. He was never high on prospect lists and until his call up in 2013, most Mets fans had only heard whispers of his name.
So what makes a guy like Lagares, who clearly has a ton of raw talent, fly under the radar while guys like Flores rise to the top? It’s all about the hype machine. The same way certain stories make the 10 o’clock news and others don’t. Lagares almost became the forgotten piece.
During his 9 seasons in the minor leagues, Lagares batted .281. Right before he was called up to replace Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who was struggling mightily, he was hitting .346 in 78 at bats for triple-a Las Vegas. At that time, he was considered to be an above average defender, on par with Matt den Dekker (the #15 prospect on the 2013 list). Wally Backman, who managed him in Binghampton, told ESPN that “he has a knack for getting the barrel on the ball.”
Lagares has now played in 224 major league games and over that time has recorded 198 hits, 78 RBI’s and is hitting .262 in his short career. What he’s done in 2014 is show that he not only can be the center fielder moving forward but that he has the ability to hit at a rate no one expected. Juan Lagares has become an elite defender and if he can keep his batting average up, could start to compete as one of baseball’s best in center.