Much is said of Jeff McNeil’s contact skills, and they are amazingly impressive with him making contact on nearly 50% of the pitches he sees, but his contribution to the Mets goes beyond what he does in the batter’s box. McNeil’s ability to adapt and succeed at multiple defensive positions so far this season is very much a noteworthy feat.
In the Monday game against the Phillies, McNeil was brought in from left field to play his more experienced position of third base, and as the old adage goes the ball certainly found the new guy to the infield. McNeil made an amazing play on a hard-hit ball off the bat of Maikel Franco to turn two with no one out and two on for the Phillies. The game went from the Phillies having a 53.3% chance of winning only down a run in the 8th to merely a 26.7% chance of winning. Disregarding the Mets’ bullpen’s inability throw baseballs in the strike zone it could have been the winning play for the game.
However, since the Mets’ bullpen does not posses the ability to throw baseballs in the strike zone the game became tied. McNeil sure enough made another great grab at in the following inning to retire JT Realmuto.
In left this season the play has been less spectacular, but has generally made the plays expected of him. He’s only committed one error at a position he seldomly played before this spring training. And you have to give a guy credit to adjusting to a position that he certainly wasn’t the most comfortable with back in February.
He has actually graded out as great in left this season when looking at UZR, but this is taken over much too small of a sample size. Overall, he has seemed to pass the eye test as well. Being able to slide over to perhaps his best position at second base is just another benefit.
The real success behind his fielding comes from his attitude. When switching over from golf to baseball for college, McNeil found himself trying to catch up in many ways. His coaches have expressed that even with this lack of experience he would always try to take on new positions, and this has led to him acquiring quite a number of gloves.
Apparently, he has different eight gloves, and just this piece of preparation goes a long way. This in combination with the extra work he has put in taking extra fly balls in left, he could be very important tool for the Mets this season. In the days where four-man benches have become more and more normal, having a player able to play multiple positions is critical. The Mets have had players play all over the field in recent years with players like Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes, but there is an important difference between playing multiple positions and actually performing well at them. These failures contributed to the Mets posting a negative team Defensive Runs Saved for each of the past three years. There is versatility and there is successful versatility. While his outfield experiment is just a few weeks in, McNeil offers hope to the Mets that he can provide quality fielding at many positions giving the team much needed roster and late-game flexibility.