There’s little denying that Jeff McNeil’s calling card over his first three MLB seasons is his prowess at the plate as one of the Mets’ top natural hitters.
He’s also one of the club’s most fiery, meticulous students in the batter’s box — a sometimes-demonstrative approach always directed at himself features bursts of expletives and shouts of frustration when things aren’t going right.
It seems to be working. Over his first 248 professional games, the 28-year-old lefty has a .319 batting average and an .884 OPS.
But there is always room for improvement, and McNeil is most focused on consistency at the dish heading into 2021.
“I know last year I didn’t play very well the first couple weeks of the season so I’m going to try and be more consistent,” McNeil, who overcame that rough start to bat .311 in 52 games, said on Monday from spring training at Port St. Lucie. “I hate those ups and downs — hitting .400 one week and .200 the next week. I’d rather just be .300 all year and be consistent. Just focus on that, limiting slumps to just a few days instead of a week here, a week there.”
If achieved, that consistency at the plate will be the only version that McNeil will experience this summer as the book is still out on where he’ll play a bulk of his games defensively.
Upon Robinson Cano’s season-long suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s banned substance policy, McNeil was initially expected to be the Mets’ everyday second baseman — his natural position.
That doesn’t seem to be the case as defensive question marks at second, third, and two-thirds of the outfield loom over the Mets.
“Going into spring training kind of assuming I’ll play everywhere,” McNeil said. “I imagine I’ll play a lot of second base but at the same time, get reps in at third, left, right… Wherever the team needs me.”
McNeil doesn’t possess an elite-caliber glove at any of the positions he’s played over the last three seasons — second base, third base, and left field. But he has a positive Defensive Runs Saved mark at all three; plus-1 at second, plus-2 in left, and plus-5 at third.
When asked where he would prefer to play the most, McNeil said: “I’m not sure because I’ve never had an everyday spot.
“My role since I’ve been in the big leagues is to move around,” he continued. “I’m available to do whatever the team needs.”
It will undoubtedly include forming a double-play tandem with new star shortstop Francisco Lindor, and the two have already got to work.
“I can learn a lot from him, learning to play with him up the middle,” McNeil said. “It’s nice to see how he works around the bag and try to get in sync with him.”