New York Mets’ second baseman Jeff McNeil has the potential to be a strong major leaguer, but stardom is unlikely.
The 2018 season has been a complete disaster for the New York Mets.
Additionally, still-ongoing trade discussions surrounding ace pitcher Jacob deGrom have given fans more to fear than to be excited for. Fans are desperate for something to get amped up about, and they may have found it as the team called up prospect (well, kind of a prospect) Jeff McNeil.
We've selected the contracts of Jeff McNeil and Phillip Evans from Las Vegas, placed Yoenis Céspedes on the 10-Day DL and designated Ty Kelly for assignment. #Mets
— New York Mets (@Mets) July 24, 2018
The 26-year-old was drafted in round 12 of the 2012 draft out of California State University Long Beach, and really put himself on the map this season. McNeil, who was unable to find his way onto MLB.com’s top 30 prospects for the team, has had an incredible season in the minors. However, it’s fair to wonder if that will translate to the majors.
Between Binghamton and Las Vegas, he has slashed an excellent .342/.411/.617. His batting average and on-base-percentage are improvements from his career minor league numbers of .311 and .380 respectively.
However, they pale in comparison to the shocking jump in his slugging percentage. His career slugging percentage is .443, which is .174 lower than what he has done this season. With his advanced age (26) it’s unlikely due to growing and filling into his body the way some prospects do, as he’s somewhat too old for that to be a realistic possibility.
The jump in slugging percentage is thus most likely due to changing his approach at the plate and getting more pitches to drive. It also means that the number would have regressed some, although it would still reside higher than his career average, had he stayed in Triple-A.
His minor league numbers are extremely similar to what former Met Daniel Murphy’s were during his minor league tenure. Their batting averages are within .014 points (he hits .311, Murphy hit .297).
Their slugging percentages are also in line, as Murphy slugged at a .455 clip, while McNeil’s slugging percentage was .443. This gives us a very reasonable major league comparison to try to project McNeil.
Murphy is a very different hitter than he was when he first came up, due to completely changing his approach with Kevin Long entering the 2015 season. Thus, it makes more sense to look at Murphy’s stats before that change than it does to look at his entire career, as that’s when he was most similar to McNeil.
From 2008-2014 Murphy slashed .290/.333/.419 while homering at a pace of eight for every 162 games. While not providing a lot of home run power, he hit a lot of doubles, collecting 190 of them in 773 games.
Early in his career, Murphy’s calling card was using both gaps to collect extra-base hits, which gave him a double on 6.65 percent of his at-bats. In the minors, McNeil doubled in 5.83 percent of his at-bats.
However, McNeil’s triples rate of 1.05 percent is almost double Murphy’s rate from 2008-2014, which sat at 0.63 percent. In other words, McNeil won’t get as many extra-base hits as Murphy did, but he’ll likely make up for it by having more of them be triples.
McNeil has a smooth swing that covers the plate effectively. He showed that in his first major league at-bat, getting a fastball at the knees and taking it up the middle for a hit. He has a small leg kick and a very quick bat, which will help him hit to all fields.
— New York Mets (@Mets) July 25, 2018
McNeil’s defense is harder to project. Defensive metrics are notoriously unreliable, especially publicly available metrics. Thus, scouting tells more of what a player is capable of defensively.
One scout of a team that plays in the American League told Kirk Meyer of the New York Daily News that McNeil is a “technically sound” defensive infielder. He won’t make many spectacular plays, but he’ll be where he needs to be and will handle balls that he should handle.
His offense will be his primary weapon as a major leaguer, but it’s nice to know he’s a capable defensive player, even if he won’t excel in that area of the game.
All signs point to McNeil being a strong player that the team can plug into the lineup and expect good results. But expecting him to be a star is unrealistic.