Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Mets are "making a commitment" to develop Jeff McNeil as an outfielder, GM Brodie Van Wagenen said Thursday, noting that the team is sending quality control coach Luis Rojas to work with McNeil on his defense before Spring Training.
And parsing through what Van Wagenen said earlier this week, it seems the team is planning for McNeil to be something close to an everyday player in the outfield, which will be his "primary" position.
So, can the Mets rely on McNeil to be an everyday outfielder?
"He's not gonna have any problem as a defender in the outfield," said Troy Buckley, the head baseball coach at Long Beach State, who counts McNeil among his former players.
Buckley said McNeil played "sparingly" in the outfield (mostly left field) during his time at Long Beach State, when he didn't really have a true position. But Buckley is high on McNeil's ability to stick in the outfield in the majors.
"He can play anywhere -- and that's the truth, he really can," Buckley explained. "He's just got really good instincts and feel for the game of baseball. He's very blessed and very unique."
Calling an outfielder with a big arm something that can be an "eye candy tool," Buckley talked up McNeil's instincts and overall ability, saying he has "the ability to cover the grass, understand situational baseball, and then get the ball to the direct base -- get the ball to the direct people. And I think Jeff will handle that very well, even if his arm doesn't measure up to a true outfield arm or a right field arm or anything like that."
The 26-year-old McNeil burst on the scene with the Mets last season after suffering some injury setbacks in the minors and revamping his swing -- something Buckley said has "improved his swing plane" after being "a little flat" before the change.
As he was hitting .329/.381/.471 in 63 games for the Mets in 2018 during what was his first taste of the majors, McNeil played primarily second base while getting a taste at third base.
Buckley's confidence that McNeil will be able to handle the outfield defensively is high, and he also has no concerns about the mental aspect of adapting to a new position full-time and any kind of negative impact it could have on McNeil at the plate.
"I think he'll be fine," Buckley said. "As long as there's communication and there isn't a disconnect of what the Mets expect of him at the plate."
The Mets are sending their quality control coach to work with McNeil on his outfield defense soon. Last season, Pat Roessler -- the team's former assistant hitting coach -- had also spoken to Buckley about McNeil.
"It's one of those things where everybody's gonna be on the same page, and I think the player is gonna benefit," Buckley said.
As far as McNeil's explosive rookie campaign and how he did it after coming a bit out of nowhere, Buckley noted McNeil was never going to "get the golden baton" as a top prospect, but that he earned everything on the way up.
"He was gonna have to go do it, and he did," Buckley said. "His body improved, his strength improved. I think his overall commitment to everything improved."
Now, after all of the hard work and determination to get the majors -- where he excelled -- McNeil has one more challenge on his plate.