There has been a lot of debate this offseason over the Mets’ center field situation while Michael Conforto is out, particularly regarding Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares. While both players have a case for starting over the other, it’s been pretty much accepted that the two will begin in the season in a platoon.
Lagares is 28-years-old and has had five weak seasons with the bat, yet his superb defense has kept his production at a respectable level for a starter, when healthy.
Nimmo, however, flashed his offensive potential last year and has continued to improve his hitting in Spring Training. With 24-year-old Nimmo starting to establish himself as a legitimate offensive threat and on-base machine, it’s now or never for Juan Lagares to start to hit.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Lagares worked with Craig Wallenbrock over the offseason, a hitting coach who helped transform Chris Taylor and J.D. Martinez as well as former Met Justin Turner. Lagares has never been a very good hitter, but this news presents reason for excitement. If he can start hitting really well in addition to his elite defense, he could be a star.
But there’s no more time for waiting for Lagares to “finally break out.”
‘They’ve been waiting five years and it’s still yet to happen. If he doesn’t hit this spring or in the season, there’s no reason to keep plopping him out there every day when an eager Nimmo will be sitting on the bench, ready to take his spot.
If the improvements Nimmo has made are legitimate, his overall skillset is more valuable than Lagares’s because despite not having elite defense, he still plays acceptable defense. Combine that with a knack for working the count and getting on base and you have a very good all-around starting outfielder.
If Lagares is going to get the bulk of the playing time over Nimmo, he’s going to have to earn it, because it wouldn’t make sense to put the developing 24-year-old on the bench for the 28-year-old who hasn’t hit well for five seasons in the chance that this is “finally the year” that he breaks out.
Now that Lagares has returned from injury, this is a huge spring for him, and one in which he will have to show that these supposed improvements to his swing are not a myth.
For now, all we can do is watch Lagares for the rest of spring and hope his new swing turns him into a viable hitter. But if he’s going to break out, it has to be sooner rather than later, because the Mets and their fans are tired of waiting.
If a glove-first center fielder is all he’s ever going to be, then this team should look to Nimmo, not Lagares, as their center fielder of the present and hopefully of the future.
All eyes will be on Lagares as he gets regular playing time this spring, and like it or not, his performance will play a big role in deciding how much playing time he will get once the season starts.
It’s now or never for Juan Lagares. If he hits, he’s an asset. If he doesn’t, it’s hard to see him as a long-term everyday option. Regardless, the time for the outfielder to shine and show us what he’s got is now, because opportunities are running out.