On opening day, depending on if we are facing a lefty or righty, our lineup might look like this:
While neither is going to win a stolen base title, Lagares and Nimmo both possess average or better speed and base running skills and Nimmo at least has demonstrated a good OBP in a small sample size. That and his five remaining years of control is precisely why management was so hesitant to part with a player who, on the surface, appears to be just a reserve outfielder. Lagares, better known for his gold glove than his bat, has been reportedly working on adjusting his swing in the off-season. He’s worth a look and a second chance at the leadoff spot, but realistically, he’s never demonstrated a consistent ability to get on base. This experiment won’t last more than a month or so as the return of Michael Conforto will relegate both of these players to part-time duty.Once that happens, do we really want Conforto in the leadoff spot? Yes, he can get on base and has at least average speed, but he’s also a reliable RBI man who is better suited to batting third in the lineup in front of Yoenis Cespedes. In a full season, a healthy Conforto could contribute 60 plus extra base hits, which would be a lot more impactful with ducks on the pond.
Do we have other options? Cespedes and Bruce are clearly earmarked for the middle of the order, as is the power hitting, but strikeout prone Frazier. Gonzalez, Cabrera, d’Arnaud, and Flores are all too slow footed to lead off and the latter is not adept at drawing walks.
Rosario may present himself as an option as the season develops as he certainly possesses the foot speed. However, he will need to learn to be more selective at the plate, swinging at better pitches and developing the patience to draw walks at a good clip. This will take some maturing if it ever happens. So far, Rosario looks like the second coming of Alcides Escobar. He might eventually learn to hit .290 or even .300, but his OBP will be just 10 points above that and this doesn’t really cut it atop the order.
When he’s in the lineup, either to spell an infielder or to fill in on injury, Jose Reyes is another option. He’s not the dynamo he once was but he has experience in the leadoff spot and still possesses speed. Despite a poor start at the plate last season, Reyes finished quite strong. After Nimmo, he might be our best option atop the lineup. Problem is, in as many games as not, neither will be in the lineup and that’s going to require some mixing and matching on the part of new manager Mickey Callaway.
Not every team has a traditional leadoff hitter and some, like last year’s Cubs, can rotate high OBP guys and make it work. As is often pointed out, a leadoff hitter may only bat first once in a game, however, it’s always good to set the tone of the game at the outset. Also, it’s a lot easier to score runs when you’re not going station to station waiting for a third single or a homerun that doesn’t always come.
If this lack of a true leadoff hitter and team speed proves to be the problem this writer predicts, there’s always the midseason trade deadline. Until then, it’s anybody’s guess who will be up first.