New York Mets prospect Jeff McNeil has been a hot topic of discussion recently with the major league team desperately needing offense but seemingly refusing to promote him during a breakout season.
First off, McNeil is having more than just a breakout season, he’s been one of the best players in the entire minor leagues this year. His 180 wRC+ ties him for fifth among full season minor leaguers while his 11.5% strikeout rate is tied for the 19th lowest, that’s an extremely impressive combination.
Secondly, Mets manager Mickey Callaway recently called McNeil “strictly a second baseman” in regards to questions of why the Mets didn’t call him up when they placed third baseman Todd Frazier on the disabled list. Instead we’ve seen Jose Reyes (-1.1 fWAR) almost regularly at third. By the way, McNeil has played 417 minor league games with 149 of them at third base (including Thursday night). He’s played every position but catcher and pitcher.
McNeil, 26, was more a of a utility type prospect before 2016 when bulked up in an effort to gain more pop on the offensive side. He had to wait until this season to see the results after playing only three games in 2016 (double sports hernia/hip surgery) and 48 last season, but it has been worth it.
The left-handed hitter is slashing .344/.415/.629 with 24 doubles, four triples, career-high 18 homers and 64 RBI in 340 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. He also has 31 walks compared to only 39 strikeouts.
I’ve heard varying opinions on how people view McNeil’s defense – one scout I talked to said it was playable, while a Mets official said it was below average – which brings us to the comparison John Harper of the New York Daily News was given, “He might be a classic late-bloomer,” the scout said. “He’s always had a solid approach as a contact guy who controls the strike zone, but he’s driving the ball now. He reminds me a little of a young (Daniel) Murphy.”
Before the added bulk for McNeil, he was more of a utility type prospect that could play shortstop and center in a pinch while stealing double digit bases each year. He’s not that type of guy anymore. He’s now more of a second base type that is going to hit for power, not strike out much and the defense will likely be league average. I do not see his defense as bad as Murphy, but do see other similarities in their game.
The most ridiculous part of this whole McNeil situation is the Mets pushing the reasoning behind him not being in the major leagues is limited defensive ability. Pretty funny coming from a team that has put Dominic Smith in left field this year, Jay Bruce at first base, Jose Reyes at third base and I could go on with more if I included past seasons.
Time and time again, the Mets have shown they care very little about defense or putting players in positions they’ve either never played or haven’t played in pro ball.
Now they have a prospect that is Rule 5 draft eligible after the season, proving he no longer needs minor league seasoning and have a need at second base in 2019, but for some reason feel the need to give Jose Reyes and Ty Kelly at-bats in July of a lost season.
I understand that McNeil will likely be up when they trade Asdrubal Cabrera. That shouldn’t have stopped them from promoting McNeil (plenty of wiggle room to add him to 40-man roster like Yoenis Cespedes to 60-day DL) when Frazier was put on the DL with no real option to replace him.