Jeff McNeil Overview
The New York Mets are set to enter the 2021 season with the best roster they have had in years. With superstars throughout the lineup, it is not immediately clear where Jeff McNeil will get most of his playing time. McNeil should be considered a super-utility player, having played left field, right field, second base, and third base across his first three seasons in the major leagues. Over his 248 career games, McNeil has slashed an impressive .319/.383/.501, making it mandatory that the Mets find a spot for him in the lineup. But where should he play in the field?
McNeil has been a serviceable to above-average defender at every position he has played in his career. He has accumulated a positive DRS (defensive runs saved) at each of the positions–outfield, second base, and third base. If I were the Mets, I would be comfortable with him playing at any of those positions, so what it really comes down to is where should McNeil play so that they can send out the best team overall.
Where Does McNeil Fit in the Lineup
There are two key players that are going to impact where Jeff McNeil plays the majority of the time. Those two players are J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith. Since being traded from the Houston Astros to the Mets prior to the 2019 season, Davis has slashed a solid .288/.370/.483 and hit 28 home runs in 196 games. Also since 2019, Dominic Smith has slashed an impressive .299/.366/.571, albeit in only 139 games. Both players are weak defensively but are clearly both bats that the Mets desperately want in the lineup every day.
There is a bit of musical chairs that has to go on to get everyone in the lineup. Dominic Smith is a natural first baseman but that spot is currently held down tightly by Pete Alonso. Without the DH, this forces Smith out into left field. J.D. Davis only plays left field and third base. With Smith in left, Davis has to play third. Rightfield belongs to Michael Conforto, so in order for a Mets lineup to be at full strength, there is only one place left for Jeff McNeil to play: second base. Playing second base will be great for McNeil. It is his natural position and where he played the vast majority of his games in the minors before being called up.
The Mets lineup is looking like it’s going to be a dominant force in 2021. However, forcing Smith into left field and Davis to play third base may end up being a liability. While Smith seemed to improve defensively in 2020, Davis has a horrendous -19 DRS at third base for his career.
If the offensively orientated defensive configuration ends up being too big of a problem, then the Mets could give Jonathan Villar more playing time than anticipated. Villar is a sure-handed second baseman and moving McNeil to third would be an improvement over Davis.
The Mets may be able to bear subpar defense at third base, however. Francisco Lindor’s great range and throwing arm will take some pressure off the hot corner. If the defense holds up, the Mets’ best bet is for Jeff McNeil to play second base in 2021.
Jeff McNeil’s versatility is one of his best assets to his team. He is a plus bat at three positions which is incredibly valuable. While it looks like McNeil will be playing second base in 2021, the Mets shouldn’t hesitate to move him around if the situation calls for it.
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