With the offseason waning down and all players set to report to training camp by next Monday, the New York Mets are close to finalizing the bulk of their roster. Each Wednesday leading up to opening day a new position will get its own deep dive analysis. So far, the catchers and first basemen have already gotten their breakdowns. Today, it’s the second basemen’s turn.
Ever since Jeff McNeil made his debut in late 2018, the quick-footed rookie looked destined to be the Mets starting second basemen of the future. Yet, in 2019 and 2020, that didn’t quite happen. After trading for Robinson Cano and his mega contract ahead of the 2019 season, McNeil was shifted into an all-around utility role. He wound up spending almost two-thirds of his playing time in the outfield and third base. Defensively, he proved to be decent but unspectacular in those positions. Now, with Cano suspended for the 2021 season after testing positive for PED use, it’s finally McNeil’s time to shine.
In 774 innings at second base, McNeil has seen his performance somewhat diminish along with his playtime. In 2018, he posted 4 DRS and 2 OAA in 460 innings of work. Since then, he has put up -3 DRS, but was still worth 2 OAA. While not elite, McNeil’s numbers are good enough and will likely improve now that he’s at the position full time. Having to constantly jump around to third base and the outfield undoubtedly played a role in his regression. With some consistency and regular reps at second, McNeil will finally show what he’s really made of at the position.
Offensively, McNeil has already developed a reputation as one of the game’s premier contact hitters. Through his first three seasons, he’s yet to post an average under .311 or an on-base percentage below .381. With a decent amount of power (.501 slugging percentage), an all-fields approach and a career 139 OPS+, one could say he was born to be a no. 2 hitter.
Lending to McNeil’s success are his unique swinging motion and keen eye at the plate. Striking out in just 13.4% of his at bats and besting the league’s chase contact rate by over 10 points (69.8% vs. 59.4%) makes McNeil one of the toughest outs in baseball. A pure line drive hitter if there ever was one, McNeil won’t turn heads with his low average exit velocity, hard hit rate or barrel rate, but he doesn’t need to. While an early-season slump may have worried some last year (.258/.320/.333 in August), his quick rebound in September (.356/.432/.653) hopefully proves that it was just that, a slump.
The Super Utility
In many ways, Luis Guillorme has spent much of his career in the same predicament as McNeil. A natural shortstop, Guillorme saw decreased time in the position in favor of former Mets’ shortstops Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez. As a result, he saw more reps at second and third, ultimately being transformed into an infield utility player. While things haven’t exactly panned out well in the hot corner, he has mostly held his own at second, even performing better there than at short.
Since his debut in 2018, Guillorme has seen limited action at second with just 176 innings played. In that time he owns a .990 fielding percentage, 2 DRS and 2 OAA at second. Again, not elite, but certainly impressive for someone not in their natural position. He’s also made his share of flashy plays over the years, using his quick reaction time to turn some improbable double plays. Like McNeil before him, Guillorme will likely spend time all over the diamond, thus limiting his growth here. Still, with 2021 potentially being his first full season in the majors, whatever time he sees at second should be sufficient for improvement.
As for his bat, Guillorme is also a low-power, line-drive hitter, albeit with a much lower average than McNeil. Slashing .259/.343/.341 with a 90 OPS+ and just one homerun, his total offensive ability isn’t much. Granted, in 68 plate appearances last year, he did have something of a breakout season, slashing .333/.426/.439 with a 141 OPS+. Time will tell if this was just a stroke of good luck or a sign of things to come.
The Mets will have no shortage of veteran backups in case something goes wrong this year.
First is Jonathan Villar. Coming here on a major league contract, he is the only one of this group with a likely spot on the opening day roster. Through eight seasons, the durable 29-year-old has actually shown some upside. While he’s spent most of his time at shortstop, he’s played just over 2600 innings at second. In that span he owns a .973 fielding %, 1 DRS and -7 OAA. The main culprit for these low totals was a disastrous 2019 season headlined by -7 DRS and -8 OAA. His 2018 season was much better, featuring 5 DRS and 1 OAA. Villar was about average in 2020, overall making him fine as a backup, but not much else.
Villar’s main appeal as a backup comes from his bat. He’s a pretty middling hitter, owning a career .259/.327/.400 slash line and a 95 OPS+. As recently as 2019, however, Villar has been above average. That year he slashed .274/.339/.453 with a 109 OPS+, 24 homeruns and 40 stolen bases. With his speed, he’ll easily be on the Mets’ top base stealers. If Villar can get close to replicating these numbers, he may well be one of the best bench players in the league.
Behind Villar, the two veterans most likely to make an appearance at some point this season are Jose Peraza and Brandon Drury. Both will be at training camp as non-roster invitees. They’re each below average hitters (Peraza at .270/.310/.372 and Drury at .248/.296/.411) whose upside comes from playing just about every position. Peraza in particular has decent numbers at second (7 DRS and 4 OAA in 1366 innings), as well as elite speed (78 career steals). Drury is less impressive with -2 DRS -4 OAA in 1249 innings and below average speed. Regardless, if either shows up in the majors this year, it will mean that the injury bug has claimed a victim or two.
That’s all for the second basemen. Check back next Wednesday when the shortstops get their analysis.
Featured Image Courtesy of the New York Times
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