The New York Mets didn’t quite know what they had in Jeff McNeil until he frozen-roped his way through the dog days of summer last season while playing a fine second base, to boot.
Over 248 plate appearances after being called up in July (once Asdrubal Cabrera was traded to Philadelphia), the Santa Barbara, California native slashed .329/.381/.471 with 11 doubles, six triples, three home runs, 19 runs batted in, a 5.6 walk rate and microscopic — especially these days — 9.7 strikeout percentage, a .368 weighted on-base average, a 137 weighted runs created plus rating, and 2.7 wins above replacement (FanGraphs).
In case anyone was wondering, McNeil’s wOBA and wRC+ ranked fifth among all qualified MLB rookies last season and his 2.7 fWAR ranked seventh.
Earlier in the offseason, albeit during the Winter Meetings before any roster additions were made, McNeil was “penciled in” as the team’s starting second baseman.
Now, with Robinson Cano slotted into McNeil’s former spot and Jed Lowrie penciled in as (one of) the Mets’ roving utility infielders, the man they call Squirrel is destined for a good, hard look in the outfield this spring.
In an interview with WFAN, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen expanded on the organization’s thoughts on how to incorporate McNeil’s potent bat into a batting order suddenly jam-packed with them.
“His focus in Spring Training is going to be a transition into the outfield,” Van Wagenen said. “Because we think we can be a lethal lineup with a McNeil, [Michael Conforto], [Brandon Nimmo] outfield against right-handed pitching.”
Earlier on Monday, McNeil spoke with Matt Ehalt of The Record, expressing total comfortability in the move.
“[I’m] definitely going to play some outfield, still play some infield, but definitely [going to] move all around the field,” McNeil said. “It’s been a while since I played in games, but just about every single day in the minor leagues I was taking fly balls. Had some games out there last year, played really well. So I’m not that worried.”
Just for reference, McNeil played a total of seventeen innings in left field for Triple-A Las Vegas last year, recording five putouts on five opportunities. Through his MiLB career, the 26-year-old has played in a total of nine games in the outfield, recording one error in 18 chances.
Considering the season McNeil had last year and the do-anything-for-the-team attitude he’s displayed thus far after what had to be a shocking development for the second-year player, as long as he continues to hit, Mets skipper Mickey Callaway is assuredly going to do his best to find somewhere to play him.