One of the most cliched terms in professional sports is when an athlete claims that there is not a larger critic of their game than themselves. When it comes to New York Mets star, Jeff McNeil, though, it’s pretty spot on.
The 28-year-old lefty has quickly developed into one of the best natural hitters in Major League Baseball over his first three seasons, possessing a .319 career average with an .884 OPS. He’s also become one of the most demonstrative hitters in the game as he’s been known to berate himself mid-at-bat when he misses a pitch or when he comes out on the wrong side of a plate appearance.
At times, that fire is the ultimate motivating factor for one of the Mets’ most valuable hitters. On other occasions, pent-up aggression could sabotage a hitter and exacerbate a slump.
It’s been on display as McNeil struggled throughout the spring, batting .116 (5-for-43) with a home run and two RBI — and it’s something manager Luis Rojas has to work on keeping under control.
“You have to pay attention because you know it’s going to be there,” Rojas said on Sunday. “He’s going to be pretty hard on himself when things are not going well. He’s very much result-oriented so he’ll get mad even if he hits a bullet and someone makes a diving catch.
“If he gets a broken-bat blooper, he’ll be celebrating… It comes down to coaching and being there as a teammate to give that support. It’s alright, it brings out the best, but when we know it’s too much, we talk about it to stay engaged with the game and the team to keep moving forward.”
Dom Smith’s defense improving
While the defense of McNeil at second base and J.D. Davis at third are hot-button issues in 2021, so is that of Dominic Smith’s in left field — the natural first baseman with a better glove than Pete Alonso forced out there due to the slugger’s emergence as a superstar.
As he has done though, throughout his career, Smith is taking the challenge in stride, improving his standing in left field just like he improved his offensive prowess to become a top-10 bat in the National League last year.
“It’s better, a lot better,” Rojas said. “You have to credit [outfield coach Tony Tarasco] and Dom for putting in the work. There’s still much to be done, there’s a lot, but the experience part is going to play a big role in different situations.
“The work he’s putting in is making him better and it’s not stopping him.”
Lindor a true ‘professional’
While Rojas is waiting — like the rest of the Mets fan base and much of the baseball world — on the status of Francisco Lindor’s contract-extension negotiations with the Mets ahead of his self-imposed Opening Day deadline, he’s also been incredibly impressed at the superstar’s work ethic and impact on the clubhouse.
“He’s just been that, on and off the field, a professional,” Rojas said. “He’s a competitor. That’s the big word that describes him… This is the guy that shows up to the ballpark and is looking for ways to beat the other team and make everyone better.”
His demeanor around the team and ability to lead on the field has been just as impressive as his performance this spring, batting .388 with a 1.098 OPS, four home runs, and 14 RBI in 49 at-bats.
“That’s the thing with Francisco. He’s such a good player but he makes everyone better, too,” Rojas continued. “It starts when he’s in the ballpark, whether it’s a conversation or an idea to the coaching staff or just doing drills… He’s been very professional.”