Mets’ McNeil could be a keeper

Mets’ McNeil could be a keeper
Jeff McNeil has made a great first impression during his first 13 big league games.
By Zach Gewelb

One Mets rookie may be playing himself into the team’s future plans.

Jeff McNeil, 26, was called up to The Show July 24 and has done what he’s done throughout his minor league career: hit. McNeil was batting .333 with two home runs and four RBI in 13 games since being summoned to the big leagues. This comes after hitting to a .311/.380/.443 batting line across six minor league seasons, all within the Mets organization.

Taken in the 12th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, McNeil started receiving regular playing time at the big league level after the Mets shipped Asdrubal Cabrera to the Phillies before the trade deadline. Thus far, he’s taken advantage of his opportunity and has proved to be a legitimate hitter.

Take Monday night’s game against the Reds as an example. The defense shifted the lefty-swinging McNeil, expecting him to pull the ball to the right side of second base. McNeil noticed the shift and adjusted his swing, hoping to hit the ball the other way. The result: a home run that landed in the second deck of the left field stands.

That kind of approach at the plate has impressed manager Mickey Callaway, who has slotted McNeil into the No. 2 spot in the lineup, where he has thrived.

“Is this guy going to be a kid that, we might not have to find a second baseman over the winter?” Callaway told reporters earlier this week. “You will, at times see him play other positions, but I think that’s our main focus, to see exactly what we have because this kid can hit. He can hit good pitching, he can manipulate the barrel a little bit, he can do some different things — we saw him moving runners the other night, he’s got a great awareness at the plate, for the strike zone, so he’s looking more and more like an everyday player at this point.”

Batting high in the order is nothing new for McNeil, who often hit second during his tenure in the minors.

“It’s where I’m most comfortable. It’s sort of where I fit my whole minor league career,” he said. “I like batting second, because get a guy on first base I can hook the ball into the four hole.”

The Mets believe they have a keeper in McNeil, who batted a combined .342 with 19 home runs, 71 RBI and a 1.028 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A this season. He is an older rookie and will have to prove he can make the necessary adjustments at the plate as the league devises new ways to attack him, but so far, so good for the California native.

In a season that has been devastated by injury and ineffectiveness, McNeil has shown there is a silver lining. Perhaps the Mets should continue creating opportunities for younger players at the big league level. The club needs to find out what assets it has for the 2019 season and throwing the younger players into the mix now, in a low-pressure environment, is the best way to evaluate them.

It seems as if the Mets have found their future second baseman. Who knows what other positions they could fill from within?

Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewelb@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4539.

More from Around New York