MMO Top 20 Mets Prospects – #7 Juan Lagares, OF

The Mets first signed Juan Lagares out of the Dominican Republic as an IFA in 2006, just two months after his 17th birthday. At the time Lagares was a highly regarded hitter who also happened to be a shortstop. He spent that first professional summer learning the basics in the Dominican Summer League. The smart move for 2007 would have been to start Lagares out in rookie ball, since he was only 18. But the man calling the shots at the time for the Mets, Tony Bernazard, has never been accused of being very smart.

Bernazard’s legacy as Met farm director is not a good one. He not only had a terrible attitude, and used to bully and intimidate the young players, but he habitually promoted the young prospects in the system far too aggressively, and is probably responsible for ruining more than his share of promising careers. Current players like top prospects Fernando Martinez, Wilmer Flores, Jefry Marte, Jenrry Mejia, and Cesar Puello were all rushed through the lower levels of the minor leagues, and as a result, their development has slowed to a crawl. This is the reason why Lagares has spent so many nondescript seasons toiling away in the minors, in absolute obscurity, before breaking out in a huge way in 2011.

In 2007 the Mets started Lagares out as an 18-year-old, in Savannah, where the average age of a player in the South Atlantic League is 21 to 22. As a result, he hit only .210 that year, and played horribly at shortstop, posting a .911 Fielding %. The next year was split between Savannah and Brooklyn, but Lagares didn’t fair much better, batting a combined .253, and a .938 Fielding % at short. At this point the decision was made to move Lagares to the outfield for the 2009 season.

Now 20-years-old, Lagares was still overmatched at Savannah in 2009. He batted .274 that year but had practically zero extra base hits. In 168 AB’s he had only 6 2B’s, 2 3B’s, 0 HR’s, and 13 RBI’s. In 2010 he started to put up some decent numbers playing most of the year at Savannah and finishing up with a stint in the Florida State League at St. Lucie. In 423 combined AB’s that year, he hit .279 while scoring 58 runs, with 118 hits, 18 2B’s, 9 3B’s, 7 HR’s, 55 RBI’s, and 25 SB’s, all career highs.

And then, it was 2011. The season opened for Lagares in St. Lucie and the guy started raking, big time. In 308 AB’s he scored 51 runs, and compiled 104 hits with 15 2B’s, 6 3B’s, 7 HR’s, 49 RBI’s, and posted a slash-line of .338/.380/.494. This led to a promotion to AA Bingo in July, where he played for the remainder of the season. Normally the jump from high A ball to AA is considered the toughest transition to make for a minor leaguer, but in Lagares’ case it was easy as falling off a log, and he simply got better. In 162 AB’s at AA, Lagares batted a cool .370, with a .391 OBP, and a .512 SLG%. His totals for the season: 470 AB’s, 72 runs, 164 hits, 26 2B’s, 9 3B’s, 9 HR’s, 71 RBI’s, 15 SB’s, and a combined slash of .349/.383/.500.

After having such an astounding season, the Mets rewarded Juan with a trip to the Arizona Fall League, where he played CF for the Peoria Javelinas. In 66 AB’s in Arizona Lagares continued to hit, batting .303, with 2 HR’s and 18 RBI’s. This winter he’ll be playing for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League.

Now aged 22, standing 6’1″ and 175 lbs., Lagares, who is a RH hitter, should open the season at AAA Buffalo. Playing in the same outfield as Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Adam Loewen, and FMart. A similar performance as last season should get him to Queens at some point next year, especially with the way this Mets team is stagnating this winter. This pathetic excuse for a big league team can use all the help it can get.

Lagares has a fairly good throwing arm, and although he is not a “burner”, has above average speed. He’s still adjusting to the OF, but the recent time he has spent in CF is something the Mets must watch and consider very carefully, to see if that could be a permanent landing spot for him. He really doesn’t profile too well as an everyday corner outfielder, due to lack of HR power, and he isn’t ideal for CF either because his speed is just adequate for the position. The most likely scenario for Lagares at this point could be as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues. That way he would not be exposed by playing everyday, yet his speed and bat coming off the bench could be a very valuable asset.

Juan Lagares Video Link: Swing

Check back on Monday when we unveil the #6 ranked player on our list!

2012 MMO Top 20 Prospects

7.   Juan Lagares               OF

8.   Wilmer Flores              INF

9.   Cesar Puello                RF

10.  Reese Havens             2B

11.  Cory Mazzoni             RHP

12.  Jordany Valdespin      INF

13.  Darin Gorski               LHP

14.  Phillip Evans              SS

15.  Jefry Marte                  3B

16.  Collin McHugh           RHP

17.  Juan Urbina               LHP

18.  Akeel Morris              RHP

19.  Michael Fulmer          RHP

20.  Danny Muno               INF