The Mets last week promoted infielder Jeff McNeil, who has become a popular, in-demand minor-leaguer among online fans and the prospect media, to Triple-A Las Vegas.
The public interest in McNeil, 26, has been sparked by his late-blooming, left-handed power numbers, which has him looking like a totally different hitter than he was in 2015.
Back then, two years after being drafted with the organization's 12th-round pick, he had been presenting as an off-the-bench, slap-hitter. Then, in 2016, he missed time with a hernia, quad injury and needed surgery on his labrum. He entered this season having never had a true, full year to focus on his game and establish his toolbox. And so, three months ago, at 26, he looked destined to be a career minor-leaguer.
It turns out that McNeil added muscle during his rehab from surgery, worked to add lift in his swing this past offseason, and exploded in Double-A, where his 14 home runs trailed only teammate Peter Alonso (15) who was promoted to Las Vegas the same day as McNeil.
It's been a head-turning shift in McNeil's game. For a guy that had initially been using a Luis Castillo-like slap swing for singles and gap hits, he has a 1.020 OPS during 59 minor-league games this season. He's also struck out in fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances However, the most unique thing about his pull-happy power is that his previous approach to hitting had allowed him to punch opposite-field singles against the shift.
McNeil has also played every position on the field except for pitcher and catcher during his professional career. Most recently, he's been used primarily at second base, where the Mets still have no long-term solution and are currently juggling Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes.
"He's not going to wow you in terms of tools, in terms of speed, but he finds a way to get it done," McNeil's Double-A manager recently told the NY Post.
He is probably too old to be considered a 'prospect,' and MLB.com has never ranked him among the organization's top 20 prospects. Nevertheless, I like that he's been mostly left alone and made himself in to a respected and smart situational hitter, who now has power, can play nearly every position, takes a ton of pitches, rarely strikes out, and draws walks.
Basically, if not a starting second baseman, he may have all of the necessary tools to be a legit, super-utility guy in the big leagues, as long as he can sustain success with sporadic playing. The only way the Mets are going to find this out, though, is if he actually joins their roster and gets playing time.
I've been told by team insiders there was a real debate last week about promoting McNeil straight to the Mets from Double-A Binghamton. However, they concluded it made more sense to use Ty Kelly as a fill-in knowing he can live without at-bats and likely again pass through waivers when needing the roster spot for Flores, who was about to return from the DL.
Naturally, when Flores returned on June 15, Kelly was optioned to Triple-A. And, instead of needing to be added to the 40-man roster to join the Mets, where he most likely would have only sat the bench, McNeil remained in Triple-A, where he has started each game.
The point is, McNeil is on the front office's radar. And, I bet he gets the call to New York as soon as either Asdrubal Cabrera is traded or everyone agrees that Reyes should no longer be on the roster -- whichever happens first. Then, when McNeil begins playing for Mickey Callaway, it will be important to get him action to establish his true potential...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!