No, that was not a typo. And of course, it is not going to happen, but it should. One problem with poorly constructed teams is the notion of players being stuck in positions that are not suitable for their skills set, a topic that has been covered here, even recently, in an article by Chris Dial. Effects of this are seen immediately as an increase in errors, poor live-time decisions, and surrendered runs. All that leads to the obvious outcome of game losses. Unfortunately, this problem extends to second baseman Jeff McNeil, who has been errantly penciled in as the Mets every-day third baseman.

McNeil has been a fabulous breath of fresh air as part of the exciting freshman- and sophomore-level big leaguers that have rapidly made a considerable difference on the team. The infusion of young talent has given the Mets an air of success, enough so, that many projections put this team at or near the top of the NL East. A week ago, that excitement could not have been more palpable; a week later the team looks like it is drowning. So-so starting pitching, terrible relief pitching, hitters out of sync, and poor defense from out-of-position players are already taking a heavy toll.

One of the players stuck in this defensive quagmire is McNeil. When he was announced early on he would be manning third base, the news was widely received with a lot of enthusiasm, although I thought there was room for this to be tempered. Of course, McNeil has a minor league track record of playing third base, but to call him a third baseman by training would be errant. He’s logged many more innings at second base, his natural position, and one he excelled at after making the jump to Queens. All that accomplishment was set aside after Brodie Van Wagenen traded for Robinson Cano, putting McNeil as odd man out for a defensive position.

Snap to today. McNeil has already shown that major league third base is not a dumping ground for hurt or out-of-position players. The team surely should have learned this lesson after the agony of watching Wilmer Flores “play” third base, or Eric Campbell, or an injured David Wright, or any other experiment dropped there. McNeil already leads the majors in errors with four in seven games, but that number very easily could be seven. Pete Alonso bailed out two quite wayward throws that exposed Alonso to incoming runners, and a generous official scorer in Boston who gave a hit on a grounder McNeil mishandled and then threw poorly right after. Either of his actions should have been enough to charge an error.

Simply put, third base is a lot different than play at second. The time is so much more contracted given the length of the throw, which McNeil is clearly struggling with. Reflex time is shorter given where most people play third base; balls come much faster. Third base also opens the door to having to field bunts and swinging bunts by forcing a charge followed by an off-balance throw. I do not think McNeil is big-league ready to play third base, especially in a season where every game counts 2.7x relative to a full season game.

At 3-7, the team is heading for life support in a hurry. As previously written, the Mets typically start out seasons rather poorly across the first 60 games. Now is the time to fix the McNeil issue quickly. Luis Rojas has shown he can bench Cano for defensive reasons, and has dropped him low in the batting order. It is time to move McNeil back to where he belongs at second base for about four games per week, and platoon him twice a week in the outfield. Cano can platoon at second and DH. Andres Gimenez grades out at 60/80 in the field and 60/80 for arm. He is a “left-side” guy. In moving McNeil to second base, I would put Gimenez at third base and let him take this over, as he is seriously blocked at shortstop with Amed Rosario and Ronny Mauricio. Around-the-horn with Gimenez, Rosario, McNeil, and Alonso has the making for something strong.

9 comments on “Meet Jeff McNeil – starting second baseman for the Mets

  • TexasGusCC

    Certainly making Cano the most-days DH seems like a plus, but is it? If you put Cano at DH, move Davis to 3B, McNeil to 2B and play Smith in LF, are you better? I don’t know that Gimenez is ready for full service at 3B when he hit .250 in AA last year, and Guillorme who is more prepared is on the roster. It may be more prudent to put McNeil in the outfield where he was decent last year, stick Davis at 3B, and let Smith be a DH/part-time starter.

  • Metsense

    McNeil has performed poorly in the field in 2020. It is a small sample. In his short three seasons he has a 19 Rds/yr. Statistically third base is his best defensive position.

  • TJ

    McNeil’s 3B defense has been disappointing so far, but as Metsense said, it is a small sample. From the little I saw from Davis at 3B last year, the team is better defensively with McNeil at 3rd and Davis in LF.

    Not to belabor the point, but I’ll belabor the point – the Cano trade was bad on so many levels, and the miss by whomever at projecting McNeil after his great first year performance continues to be huge. Had they gotten that right, and I won’t put all the blame on BVW, the headline would truly be accurate and it wouldn’t be a story.

    The bottom line here is that while the Mets are still a “now” team, Rojas/BVW cannot plan around Cano. Yes he is hitting a bit and may have some life left in that bat, fine. The DH is here to stay and he should be the primary DH. We need to see more of Davis at 3B and Dom in LF…if those guys can field their positions adequately, and be just slightly minus gloves as opposed to brutally minus gloves, they may have a good mix.

    Regarding Giminez, we all like what we see, and if he can hold his own with the bat, while Rosario grows more, that longer term plan could have Rosario switching to 3B and Giminez taking over SS, with Guillorme the infield sub.

  • Brian Joura

    The McNeil question, wrapped up in how to proceed post-Cespedes, is answered by asking what’s the team’s biggest non-pitching problem.

    If the answer is defense – is it infield or outfield defense? For all of McNeil’s errors, he’s rated so far as average by both DRS and UZR. Meanwhile, the starting outfield has a combined (-8) DRS, led by Conforto’s (-4)

    It’s hard for me to wrap by head around that but UZR has Conforto bad out there, too, with a (-2.5) and a UZR/150 of (-34.2)

    You can dismiss Conforto’s numbers as SSS issues and I won’t object. I’d say the same thing applies to McNeil at 3B.

    My opinion is the best option is still to put the best offensive team out there possible and sub for defense late.

    • TexasGusCC

      A couple of years back, I noticed Nimmo’s best position was RF and Conforto’s was LF. All this seems to be to work around Cespedes, and for all my defending of Cespedes, he really did turn out to be a mistake.

      If each game is magnified by 2.7, then about 25 games in on a normal year, there’s a chance for a reboot. The bullpen must hold and the guys need to start hitting.

  • Joe Vasile

    Interested to see how serious it turns out Cano’s injury that he left Monday night’s game with is. If he is going to miss any significant amount of time, I think the answer 100% has to be to move McNeil to 2nd base full time and put Gimenez at third like you said, Chris.

  • MattyMets

    This team is poorly constructed for defense. Too many guys out of position or bad at their position. Short-term, I agree with Brian – play for offense, sub for defense in the late innings. Longer term, there is some good news. Because a few of these guys can play more than one position, it gives us some flexibility in the next off-season to target players rather than specific positions. With Cespedes gone and Ramos a FA, this team is going to need another right handed bat. Good news is he could be a 3B, 2B, C, or OF so there will be options.

  • Chris F

    According to Tim Britton, Mets beat writer for the Athletic (and he’s super good!), there has been a re-evaluation of a hit and changed to another error for McNeil. He’s not a third baseman, sorry to tell you all that.

    Jeff McNeil for second base!!

  • john

    theres no way matz should be a starter. put him in the pen. hes only good for one or two inning.they should of kept wheeler.gelsmen along with diaz let them go.the bull pen again is loosing the games

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