5 Takeaways from Juan Lagares' Performance Thus Far in Spring Training
Juan Lagares is battling Eric Young Jr. for the third spot in the New York Mets outfield. Opening Day is three weeks away, and manager Terry Collins is not sure which outfielder he wants in the everyday lineup.
Lagares has vast range in center field and a mighty arm. Baserunners would be foolish to stretch extra base hits against him. Whoever is on the mound for the Mets can be confident Lagares will catch fly balls his way.
The Mets are impressed with his defensive prowess, but they expect more than flashy plays and outfield assists. He posted a .242/4/34 slash line in 121 games last season with just a .281 on-base percentage and .352 slugging.
General manager Sandy Alderson spoke candidly about Lagares on March 1 to NJ.com:
But ultimately it’s about hitting. He’s outstanding defensively, but you gotta play pretty outstanding defense, pretty consistently, to make up for deficiencies offensively. So that’ll be the question.
Sparkling Plays for Days
Not all of Lagares’ catches seem spectacular because of his vast range. A diving play for most outfielders is something he can execute with both feet on the ground.
He robs opponents with no remorse. Lagares may not contribute to many runs, but his defense saves many.
Lagares Has a Cannon
Simply put, do not run on Lagares.
Stay at second or third base, it is not worth the risk. He demonstrated his strong and accurate arm (15 outfield assists in 2013, which led all rookies) last season on numerous occasions.
Some players have not gotten the message. During a March 9 game against the Atlanta Braves, Lagares gunned down Andrelton Simmons in the first inning as he attempted to advance from first base to third base on a single.
Lagares Does Not Like to Walk
Lagares is off to a steady start at the plate in spring training hitting .318 over 22 at-bats. However, he has only drawn one walk.
He only drew 20 walks last season over 392 at-bats. Lagares is unlikely to hit .318 throughout a full MLB season. According to a March 10 MetsBlog post, manager Terry Collins is adamant about not having automatic outs in the lineup:
But we’ve gotta take a look at both sides of the baseball. We’ve gotta make sure we can do something about producing some runs. We can’t have a lot of holes.
Lagares Can Hit, so Far
Although his .318 BA in spring training is a small sample size, he is still reaching base.
Lagares is entering his second season in the majors. Hopefully, he improves his plate discipline, but Lagares will likely continue to chase outside pitches and balls in the dirt to some extent.
Spring training is not going to prove whether he can handle MLB pitching over a full season. The only way to channel his current hitting streak is to put him in the lineup.
Lagares Still Has More Proving to Do
Even though the Mets are not yet sure whether Young or Lagares will start in the outfield, many fans have been vocal about their preference for Lagares.
Young is valued for his speed and base-stealing ability, but he needs to get on base to be effective. Lagares’ strength is defense, which is not impacted by his offense.
Aside from last season, Young has been a part-time player. He was traded to the Mets in the middle of June and hit .274 that month, but he dropped to a .252 batting average in July with a .364 OBP. In August, his batting average dropped to .236 and OBP to .288 OBP. September was more of the same with .237/.287.
Young could get overexposed easily. Lagares could be susceptible to the same fate, but only time will tell.