RESHAPING THE METS OUTFIELD
Added by Guy Kipp on June 22, 2013.
(USA Today Sports)
While the headline-making events in the New York Mets last week include Zack Wheeler’s extremely promising major league debut against the Atlanta Braves, Jon Niese’s potentially damaging partial tear of his left rotator cuff leaves him out of the game for at least 15 days.
Even though the pitching staff has been generating all of the attention, some interesting things have been happening in the Mets outfield. With Ike Davis trying to rediscover his stroke in Las Vegas, Terry Collins brought Lucas Duda in to play his natural position of first base. This move shifts Daniel Murphy back to second base, where he made the most spectacular play of his career Thursday night in Atlanta, and relegates enigmatic Jordany Valdespin to the bench. For now, this creates an entirely new outfield alignment.
With the Mets, all starting outfield alignments tend to be subject to a state of constant flux, but the acquisition of Eric Young Jr. from Colorado this week gives the Mets a player with bona fide speed for the first time since Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan were on the team. Meanwhile, rookie Juan Lagares has started to play like he’s serious about taking ownership of the center field position.
When Lagares was first recalled from the minor leagues early this season, Collins said that Lagares was at least the defensive equal of Matt Den Dekker. Now, Den Dekker may never establish himself as a major leaguer because of his offensive deficiencies, but the Mets farmhand is an otherworldly defensive fly-chaser (which dedicated Mets fans might know from having seen Den Dekker’s work in spring training).
Lagares has actually been showing that Collins’s assessment of his defensive abilities was more than mere managerial hyperbole. Lagares really is a superb defensive center fielder. For awhile, it looked like Lagares’ inability to hit any better than Den Dekker or most of the other pretenders the Mets have shuffled in and out of their heretofore awful outfield in 2013 would confine his playing time considerably.
But, suddenly, Lagares has started to come around at the plate. His overall batting average was up to .234 through games of June 21. In the month of June, Lagares is batting .347 (15-for-47) , raising his batting average from .149 to .234. In his last two games, Lagares is 5-for-8 with three doubles in road victories over the Braves and Phillies.
So, while Zack Wheeler is the Mets rookie who bears watching with a capital ‘W’ for now, Lagares at least merits watching with a lowercase ‘w.’ For a team who legitimately could lay claim to having the worst outfield in the major league for the first third of the season, this might be something for the Mets to build on.