Consider Jeff McNeil as one of the gems of the Mets’ lineup, which exhibits its fair share of riches.
Already possessing one of the deeper lineups in the National League with a premiere power hitter in Pete Alonso and one of the best offensive shortstops in the game in Francisco Lindor, McNeil is as pure a hitter as they come in today’s game, fresh off a batting title where he batted .326 in 2022.
But there is an air of uncertainty heading into 2023. With the negotiations for Carlos Correa falling through, the Mets are still missing that one last piece that owner Steve Cohen originally boasted about when he and Corea agreed on a 12-year, $315 million pact on Dec. 21.
Still, the top of Buck Showalter’s lineup is more than set with Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor, and Pete Alonso cemented in spot Nos. 1-4.
Considering McNeil’s standing as the reigning batting champ, there will be an understandable school of thought that would speculate the 30-year-old lefty batting fifth. After all, he posted a .382 on-base percentage last season and New York’s most glaring hole in production last year was from the No. 5 spot behind Alonso, with Mets batters posting a paltry .653 OPS (ranked eighth of nine batting positions) with 70 RBI (ranked seventh of nine).
The problem is that McNeil was least productive in the five-hole in 2022 (.253/.327/.377) where he had his most plate appearances of the campaign (165). It forced Showalter to rely on Daniel Vogelbach, who struggled to rise to the occasion — mostly because he’s not the kind of ballplayer to inhabit that role.
So the answer seems rather clear that McNeil should be in the No. 6 spot.
In 28 fewer plate appearances than the No. 5 spot, McNeil batted 104 points higher (.357) with nine more hits, and an .868 OPS when batting sixth.
It would allow him to remain in the top two-thirds of the lineup while boosting a No. 6 hole that saw decent production from Mets batters last season (.260 BA, .731 OPS).
Of course, that won’t answer the looming question of where the Mets will find a power bat behind Alonso at the No. 5. The hope is that Eduardo Escobar can carry the momentum from a monstrous September and fill that role. There is also the possibility of Alvarez – the Mets’ top prospect — putting on such a show in spring training that the team would have no other choice than to keep him on the major-league roster.