Mets fans realized the awesomeness of Jeff McNeil early last season when he was in the minors, which was confirmed when he was promoted during the summer and raked the rest of the season. However, most of baseball, including Brodie Van Wagenen, didn't seem to think that highly of McNeil's old-school, consistent production.
In June, McNeil was named to his first All-Star Game.
"It's a dream come true and has always been a goal of mine," McNeil told me. "It was a long road. I battled injuries, surgeries and to be here going to the All-Star Game means a lot."
I expect next week to be the first of many All-Star appearances for McNeil. As I said earlier this season, I also expect him to win multiple batting titles in his career, possibly starting this season as he leads all qualifying hitters with a .349 average.
"This young man is here to stay," a rival team's advanced scout told me this week. "I've heard people say he hits a lot like Wade Boggs, which I see. But, I actually think he will eventually pull for more power and, when he does, he's really going to make some noise around here."
The point is, MLB is finally noticing McNeil, who will be viewed on a national stage on Tuesday night in Cleveland.
For us, as Mets fans, it's a nice change of pace. It seems every season I hear of a player -- that I knew nothing about entering the year -- who is all of a sudden doing amazing things on another team's roster. In McNeil, it's our turn, since fans around the country are likely wondering where McNeil came from when seeing his name atop of the league's best hitters.
McNeil, 27, was selected by the Mets in the 12th round of the 2013 draft. He graduated from the University of California, Long Beach -- the same college attended by previous All-Stars Steve Trachsel (1996), Jason Giambi (2000-04), Evan Longoria (2008-10), Troy Tulowitzki (2010-11, 13-15) Jered Weaver (2010-12), Marco Estrada (2016), and current Mets pitcher Jason Vargas (2017).
McNeil's performance in 2019 (.349/.409/.509 with seven HR and 23 doubles) is of no surprise to his colleagues, who put him on the All-Star roster by way of this year's player vote.
The story between Van Wagenen and McNeil is also important.
In trade talks with Seattle, Van Wagenen reportedly thought highly enough of McNeil to refuse including him in the deal that ultimately sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets. That said, Van Wagenen didn't think highly enough of McNeil to keep him starting at second base, the position that would eventually be given to the veteran Cano.
To make matters worse, instead of using McNeil as an everyday, super utility infielder, Van Wagenen gave a two-year, $20 million contract to Jed Lowrie, who has yet to play a game for the Mets. In fact, the only time he's been seen wearing a Mets jersey was at his January press conference.
However, had Van Wagenen had full faith in McNeil at second and instead passed on Lowrie and targeted a tried-and-true outfielder, even if just Adam Jones (who I pushed for all winter) and not traded for Cano and Diaz, they would still have prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, an All-Star second baseman, an experienced outfielder and roughly $20 million they could have spent to upgrade the bullpen.
Instead, the bullpen has been terrible, McNeil is playing out of position, two former top prospects are in Seattle, Diaz is struggling and Cano, is having to worst season of his career, is under contract through 2023. Also in the Cano deal, the Mets dealt off right fielder and free-agent-to-be Jay Bruce, who to date this season has 21 home runs and 1.1 WAR. It's also worth noting that Jones, who signed an affordable one-year, $3 million with the Diamondbacks, is batting .261 with 13 home runs in 79 games.
It's easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback and imagine how things may have played out for the above players. It's also possible it all could have played out worse. But the point is, had Van Wagenen had full faith in McNeil to be his second baseman, the roster this season would have been different. And, given that the Mets are 10 games under .500 and trailing 12 teams in the Wild Card, any sort of difference would be welcome.
Thankfully, despite all of the above decisions, McNeil hasn't skipped a beat. And, because of his focus and positive attitude, the rest of baseball is learning what most Mets fans knew more than a year ago, which is McNeil is a great story, a terrific hitter and he can't be stopped.
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!