Jeff McNeil doesn’t think. He just hits the ball – everywhere. No Met has won a batting title since 2011, hold onto that thought because here comes McNeil…
Jeff McNeil is what’s known in baseball as a hitting machine. He reminds of Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols in their prime. See the ball, hit the ball. No need to watch the endless video or to keep “a book” on the pitchers you face- keep it simple. That’s Jeff McNeil.
The last New York Met to win a batting title is Jose Reyes. He accomplished the feat in 2011, albeit under auspicious circumstances when he laid down a bunt – and then proceeded to lay himself down, edging the onrushing Ryan Braun on the final day of the season.
No sir, don’t expect to ever see Jeff McNeil take a dive. He’s not a fluke and he knows that win or lose, this will not be the only time he finds his way toward the top of the National League leader board.
The Birth Of A Budding Star
Mets fans will recall the last few months of last year’s dismal season. Along with the grind of playing through games that meant nothing. But there was Jeff McNeil, quietly getting noticed, by stubbornly hitting over.300 and becoming a regular at second base.
At season’s end, it was assumed McNeil would work on his defense a bit and return as the Mets starting second baseman in 2019.
Assumed that is by everyone except the newly installed General Manager of the Mets, Jeff Van Wagenen. Striking early, Van Wagenen arranged a deal with the re-grouping Seattle Mariners, bringing Robinson Cano and All-Star closer, Edwin Diaz to the Mets and a rejuvenated fan base.
Uh-oh. The next question came quickly. Where does Cano’s arrival leave Jeff O’Neil? Salary and perigee demand that Cano play regardless, essentially leaving McNeil with no home in the lineup.
Sidebar: Makes you think twice about why the DH should be adopted in the National League, doesn’t it?
In any case, the Mets, with McNeil’s enthusiastic “I’ll do whatever the team needs”, decided McNeil is athletic enough to take a job in the outfield.
McNeil is adequate in the outfield, but he is outstanding at third base and second base. In the Mets lone win against the Phillies earlier this week, McNeil made a diving stab at third, got up making a flawless throw to Cano, who fired to first for a game-saving double play. The SNY booth agreed – it was the best defensive play of the year.
The Mets brain trust seemingly is in agreement that Jeff O’Neil has to play somewhere every day. But a logjam will persist when Todd Frazier returns, and it’ll only get worse again when Yoenis Cespedes decides he’s ready to earn his money sometime during the second half.
Which opens up the possibility that Frazier is deemed to be expendable, and if the Mets are willing to eat a portion of his contract, Van Wagenen should be able to bring in a quality reliever via a trade.
Jeff McNeil Continues To Force Callaway’s Hand
Or, Frazier sits on the bench as a pinch hitter – because at this juncture there’s no way Mickey Callaway is taking McNeil out of the lineup. Is he?
The Mets had an inkling about McNeil when they took him without headline-making news in the 12th round of the June 2013 draft. McNeil had other ideas though, and through six minor league seasons, he averaged .311 with a .380 on-base percentage.
Ultimately, he reached the “you can’t ignore me now phase of his career”, beginning last season and exploding into this one, batting over .400 with an eye-popping OPS of 1.027.
Jeff McNeil’s game complements the raw power displayed by Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto. He can be counted on to have good (read smart) at-bats and is capable of driving the ball to all fields, depending on how he is pitched to.
A batting title is five months away if it remains in reach. In the interim though, Jeff McNeil is in the business of helping the Mets to win games and reach the playoffs. So far, so wonderful.
I know this much. If I’m getting a little tired, but I know McNeil is hitting next inning, that TV stays ON…
Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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