The first month will be massive for these 5 Mets

The first month will be massive for these 5 Mets

by Brian Erni February 07, 2018 0 Comments

The Mets' signing of Todd Frazier has essentially set the position players that will be included on the 25-man roster. Still, opportunity exists for five among that group.

With Michael Conforto likely out until May 1, Mets brass is slated to get an extended look at a few players who have some question marks around them.

Late March and April will be a huge for these guys looking to establish themselves and/or maintain their hold on a job. 

Here are the five with the most to gain:


Juan Lagares

What's at stake?

The full-time job in center field.

Why could he do it?

Lagares has been working with Craig Wallenbrock, the hitting coach that revamped J.D. Martinez's swing and turned his career around. Martinez, once a busted top prospect, has now totaled 128 homers in the past four seasons.

Lagares' glove is so valuable (77 career Defensive Runs Saved in center field) that, even if he didn't hit a lick, he's probably worth playing every day. But if he was worth even a single win above replacement offensively? He'd have a job for life.

Juan has always been a better hitter against lefties (.267/.310/.400) than righties (.253/.290/.351), but it looked like he had started to make a few in-roads there last season (.264/.308/.379 in 186 PAs). If he can figure it out, he certainly could have an inside track to the CF gig. 

What does he need to do?

Stay healthy and contribute offensively. Lagares has been held to just 173 games over the last two years. First, he needs to stay on the field. Then, he needs to be better than the anemic .250/.296/.365 he posted in 2017.


Brandon Nimmo

What's at stake?

The full-time job in center field.

Why could he do it?

In the small samplings we've seen of Nimmo at the Major League level, he has always seemed to make a difference. He has provided a jump when pinch hitting (.393/.500/.464 in 34 career PAs), and he has slashed .264/.367/.418. That's a over a limited sample (295 PAs), but those numbers are extremely encouraging. 

Nimmo has an incredible command of the strike zone, and he seemed to master it even more in 2017, as evidenced by his .379 OBP in 215 PAs. The Mets need someone to step up and be the lead off hitter, and as the left handed side of the center field platoon, I do think they'll give Nimmo an opportunity to do that to open the season. The fact that he got on base at a .404 clip against righties (in 166 PAs) should be making every fan salivate at the idea of what he could do with a full sample.

If you've been paying attention this offseason, you know Nimmo has the support of the front office, who chose not to deal him as the centerpiece of either a trade for Andrew McCutchen or Josh Harrison. He was Sandy Alderson's very first draft selection (13th overall in 2011, one pick before the late Jose Fernandez), so there's reason to think that the organization has a lot vested in Nimmo's success.

What does he need to do?

Keep getting on base and play serviceable defense. Nimmo might even have an edge on Lagares in the long term because of the Mets' need for a lead off man. But he'll have to make sure he's not a liability in center to keep Lagares on the bench. Nimmo was worth -3 DRS with a Ultimate Zone Rating of -0.7 in center last year, but over just 75.1 innings. The hope is that those metrics get better, not worse, with more playing time.


Adrian Gonzalez

What's at stake?

The full-time job at first base, and potentially, his career.

Why could he do it?

A-Gon certainly seems to have the edge in this competition, but the league minimum salary he'll be paid makes that hold tenuous. At any point the Mets can cut bait with Gonzalez and not have it hurt financially.

Still, the Mets seem to want Gonzalez around for a number of reasons. Last season, for the first time in his career, injuries played a factor, and he was limited to just 71 games. It was the first time he played less than 156 games since his limited call ups in 2004 and 2005. He's been durable, and this offseason, the Mets have put a value on that. Coupled with the emergence of Cody Bellinger, we became expendable for LA, but you don't have to look back far to see good offensive seasons for Gonzalez. He was worth 2.1 oWAR in 2016, and 4.0 oWAR in 2015. And Bellinger has said what a great mentor Gonzalez was to him, something the Mets also have to love considering they have a young first baseman of their own.

Add in the fact that Gonzalez has always been a steady defender, and you see why the Mets took this low-cost gamble. With a young shortstop, and a relatively rusty second baseman, the Mets could benefit from having some sure hands over at first.

What does he need to do?

Prove he's not done. Many have Gonzalez written off, insisting that he's in his decline. Maybe that's fair. He'll be 36-years-old in May, and his contact has decreased in two straight seasons (79 and 78 percent, respectively, compared to 80.1 percent in 2015 and career-high 83.3 percent in 2012), but that's not exactly falling off a cliff. His hard-hit rate it still in line with his career average. But maybe the injuries, Bellinger's presence, and the Dodgers' attempt to shoe-horn him into the outfield were too many obstacles to overcome in one season. There's reason to think there is something left in the tank.


Dom Smith

What's at stake?

The full-time job at first base and a spot on the 25-man roster.

Why could he do it?

Smith is still one of this system's best prospects. The line on last season's 49-game call up (.198/.262/.395) looks ugly, but it's easy to forget that he did still hit nine homers. The knock on Smith has always been that he didn't have enough power, and would project as more of a gap-to-gap, doubles hitter. But the opposite was true in his 2017 audition.

Still, the sub-.300 OBP isn't going to make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. But the good news is that the metrics seem to imply that Smith's average will bounce back. And the questions of Smith's conditioning seem to be (at least  temporarily) in the rear view mirror. Dom has dropped 30lbs and told the NY Post that he feels "more athletic" than he has ever been.

There is still plenty of time for Smith to put it all together, and even if he does end up in Triple-A to start the season, he could play himself onto the roster with one more strong showing in Vegas. If A-Gon does prove that he's done, Smith will be called upon quickly.

What does he need to do?

Keep the weight off and keep his great attitude. Smith has said all the right things this offseason, and he really seems intent on showing the Mets he's still the first baseman of the future. That's a great start. Now, maintain that new physique and hit. The rest will take care of itself.


Asdrubal Cabrera

What's at stake?

The full-time job at second base.

Why could he do it?

Well, he has it...for now. Cabrera's $8 million option was exercised at the end of the season (I wonder, considering the depressed free agent market, if the Mets would make the same decision today), and Cabby recently expressed a preference to play second. The Mets took him up on that when they signed Frazier and essentially locked in Asdrubal at the second baseman.

But, at this stage in his career, Cabrera isn't exactly a defensive wizard (-6 DRS in 274.1 innings and -0.9 dWAR overall in 2017), so his value will be with the bat. And that's a good thing, because Cabrera can still hit.

He had his best OBP year and lowest strike out season since 2009, and those trends would be crucial to keep up, particularly if Nimmo doesn't work out at the top of the lineup. If Nimmo (or someone else) does work out in the lead off spot, Cabrera will probably hit sixth upon Conforto's return, which could give him plenty of good pitches to hit and more RBI opportunities.

What does he need to do?

Hit and just don't be a disaster defensively at second. Keep in mind that Wilmer Flores wears out left handed pitching, so he's always a risk to take at bats away from a slumping infielder. The fact that almost all the Mets' first base options are left handed means that Wilmer will likely push Gonzalez or Smith to the bench to get his at bats, but second base is probably Flores' best defensive position. And with Jose Reyes back in the fold and still a productive offensive player, Cabrera, who has slashed a very good .280/.343/.455 in his 276 games as a Met), will need to keep it up.




Brian Erni
Brian Erni

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