Out until at least May healing from surgery on a torn posterior capsule, Michael Conforto will be a huge loss for the Mets during the first month or so of the season. However, the Mets have two capable options to replace him for that time, both who feel they have something to prove. Those options are Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares. Let’s take a look at what these options bring to the team, and who should ultimately be chosen to take the job.
Once a top prospect in the Mets farm system, Brandon Nimmo has done as much as he can with the small amount of opportunities he’s been given. Nimmo, 23, has a .264 batting average in 250 career at-bats, with a 1.0 bWAR. Defensively, he only had one error to go along with a .991 fielding percentage in 2017. He has not given people any reason to worry about his defensive capabilities and was once thought to be an important part of the Mets future. If the Mets do not want to trade him, and still think he could contribute to this team, then they have to give him a chance to get it done. I think with the opportunity, Nimmo can show that he could be a viable option at center field.
Aside from stats, which do not have as much backing due to his limited appearances, Nimmo brings something else to this Mets team that I think is very important. As expressed in the picture above, Nimmo is always smiling and enjoying every second he has on the field with the Mets. He sprints to first base on every ground ball, and runs just as fast around the bases after he has hit a home run. I think that the energy and charisma that Nimmo brings could elevate this clubhouse, and bring some life to this team. This becomes especially important during the rough, grueling part of the season, something Nimmo never seems to mind.
Lagares, who has been with the Mets since 2013, is seen as one of the best defensive outfielders in the league. Along with a 1.8 bWAR in 2017, he boasted 15 defensive runs saved above average in just 85 games. Lagares, who won the Gold Glove award in 2014, was a top 7 center fielder in assists in 2017. Even more impressive, the gap in assists between Lagares and top-ranked Billy Hamilton was six. This is impressive due to the fact that all players in the top 7 of this list played more games than Lagares. The closest one was Bradley Zimmer of the Cleveland Indians, who still played 12 more games than Lagares.
His dWAR of 1.7 was also top five among center fielders in 2017, and his dWAR in 2016 was 17th in the league for center fielders. This is despite only playing in 68 games and starting in just 29 of them. Although the numbers are not astronomical, Lagares makes a huge defensive impact with the opportunities he is given. His defense is something that isn’t underrated, but I think is undervalued. If he can improve offensively, and continue the excellent defense that he has showcased throughout his career, he can be a very dangerous outfield option for this team.
The 28-year old has been looked at as a below average offensive player throughout his career, owning a .257 career batting average, which has limited his opportunities to play at a steady level. However, it seems that he has taken massive steps to change his offensive game. Lagares has revamped his swing through assistance from “swing guru” Craig Wallenbrock and the Mets will “further nurture” Lagares’ revamped swing, and have a plan in place to get him a steady volume of at-bats to get him comfortable with that swing as detailed by Mike Puma of the New York Post.
Hopefully, his new swing will help him hit more balls in the air, rather than on the ground. Juan Lagares is doing everything he can to make himself an effective offensive player, and he hopes this new swing can make it happen. If it does, it can be a career-changing situation for Lagares, and give the Mets elite defense and solid offensive production from the center field position.
So, Who Takes The Job?
Overall, I think that Juan Lagares is the better candidate to start in center field in place of the injured Michael Conforto, and predict he will win the job. His excellent defense along with an improved offensive game will be huge for this ballclub. Nimmo does bring a charismatic attitude, along with a small sample size of success, but the defense that Lagares brings is too important to pass up. Pairing that defense with a new and improved offensive game will be huge for Lagares, and could create a solid outfielder for the New York Mets. Nimmo brings energy and enthusiasm that cannot be undervalued, which is why I hope he stays on the roster as a bench player. However, as a club, the Mets do not want to spurn his growth either. There is no doubt they will have some difficult decisions to make when Conforto comes back.