For the past few weeks, the Mets have had a top outfield in the National League. Since the All-Star break, they've been the best, which is something I never expected to be saying when leaving Spring Training four months ago.
Their Opening Day outfield featured Michael Conforto in right field, Juan Lagares in center field and Brandon Nimmo in left field. The trio did well through the middle of May. However, after Nimmo went down with a bulging cervical disc, the group broke apart.
During the 30 games after Nimmo's injury, Brodie Van Wagenen and Mickey Callaway turned to six other fielders to fill the void, all which combined to be the third least-productive outfield in the NL. In fact, for most of late May, the outfield always included two of Carlos Gomez, Keon Broxton, Lagares or Aaron Altherr, two of whom (Gomez and Broxton) have since been designated for assignment and are now playing with other organizations.
It wasn't until Van Wagenen and Callaway decided to get J.D. Davis regular playing time in left field that things took a major turn for the better...
It started in late June, at which time Conforto returned to center field and McNeil, who had up until that point mostly played left field, was moved to right field.
In left field, the Mets turned to Dominic Smith, who started 16 of 19 games from late June through early July. Like the Mets during the same stretch, Smith struggled. He hit four home runs, but batted just .226 and struck out in 30 percent of his at-bats.
In response, Davis took over in left field starting 16 of the next 20 games, including yesterday's win against the Marlins. In that time, he's batting an incredible .407 with a 1.139 OPS, 10 RBI and just 13 strike outs.
During the same stretch of games, McNeil and Conforto have each hit six home runs and combined to drive in close to a third of the team's runs.
As a result, since the middle of July, not only are they the most productive outfield in the NL, the trio sit second, fourth, and sixth in WAR among all NL outfielders.
The key is Davis, though, who is looking more and more like a player that Van Wagenen can count on to fill an everyday role in 2020, whether in his current left field or also at third base.
In early January, the Mets acquired Davis from the Astros, who had considered him a potential big-league power hitter. At the time, MLB.com's minor league site ranked him Houston's fourth-best hitting prospect entering 2017.
"J.D. is a versatile offensive talent," Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said in an e-mail after acquiring Davis, a move that was questioned and mocked by most of the team's fans. "He's young, had success against lefties and he'll provide depth at the corner positions."
Davis was among several new minor leaguers specifically targeted by new front office additions Allard Baird and Adam Guttridge, both of whom spent time this past winter jettisoning a handful of top prospects acquired under former Mets GM Sandy Alderson.
Davis struggled to start this season, hitting just .150 with six strikeouts, while batting clean up and starting at third base in four of the season's first six games. Callaway, again, hit Davis fourth in the lineup, a move that was heavily criticized by fans and radio hosts, most of whom preferred that spot feature catcher Wilson Ramos.
Davis, who is known to have significant support in the front office, rewarded Callaway by hitting two solo home runs against Nationals starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, the first of which -- according to StatCast - -was the hardest-hit home run in the MLB at that point in the season.
"I was setting up too late. I wasn't in any rhythm," Davis told reporters after the game, noting that he had been reworking his swing with hitting coach Chili Davis.
It was just a few days earlier that fans were debating whether Davis should even be on the team, and now suddenly the discussion centered on how Davis should be an everyday player.
Davis remained at third base, starting 10 of the next 12 games and hitting .300 with a .407 OBP, rarely striking out and adding another home run.
Unfortunately for Davis, his playing time decreased month after month once Todd Frazier returned in late April from the injured list. That said, when he did play, be it as a starter or coming in off the bench, Davis hit.
The concern I have is that all season Davis has been getting lucky on balls in play. For instance, during each of his hot streaks this season, including the past few weeks, his batting average on balls in play has been exceptionally high, suggesting that his true performance is not as impressive as we've seen from him.
It's fair to be worried. However, I buy in to the talent, especially since it's not like Davis is a 29-year-old journeyman, low-ranked prospect that will likely be a temporary attraction. He is 25 years old, playing a premium position, he was a top prospect just 18 months ago before being promoted, and he's continuing to hit home runs in the big leagues at roughly the same pace he produced in the minor leagues.
Dave Hudgens, who is now Toronto's bench coach, told me he took notice of and worked with Davis during multiple spring trainings when the two were both with the Astros.
Hudgens, who served four years as Mets hitting coach under Terry Collins, said Davis had quietly been adding muscle, developing more torque from his hips, and improving his lift on balls up in the strike zone.
"I don't know that we projected him to be a 30-home run guy, but he's got a lot of power, he's a good hitter, pretty darn smart and I'm not surprised by what he's doing for the Mets," Hudgens told me, adding, "He can pitch, too, reaching 92, 93 mph without being warm."
In April, Hudgens told me Davis is a more powerful and more disciplined hitter when he's getting regular playing time. The more he sits, the more swing-and-miss he gets in his swing. So far, Davis has proven Hudgens right...
The well-respected ZiPS projection system deduced Davis could hit 17 HR and produce 1.5 WAR playing 120 games this season with the Mets. He is currently validating that conclusion with how he's performing as an everyday left fielder.
In other words, there is every reason to believe Davis can be a potential, long-term, everyday third baseman or left fielder, capable of producing 2.0 WAR and hitting at least 20 home runs, 20 doubles and driving in 80 runs in a season.
By the way, imagine that stat line alongside Conforto and a healthy, 2017-version of Nimmo. In that universe, the Mets don't just have a top-producing outfield for a six-week stretch, but they'd have a top-producing outfield for an entire season.
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!