The New York Mets have had a humongous hole in their lineup since trading All-Star center fielder Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in the summer of 2011. Since then Andres Torres, Angel Pagan, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Rick Ankiel, and Colin Cowgill have tried to fill the void. With his spectacular defense and decent bat Juan Lagares was the first Met to generate any excitement at center since Beltran. Still, Lagares is facing tough competition from Eric Young Jr. this Spring.
Young, who started most of last season in left field, has speed and fills the Mets’ need for a leadoff hitter. But Lagares provides a huge advantage defensively, especially with the Mets young pitching, and his bat has really come alive this spring. Because of this, I believe that Lagares should be the starting center fielder for the Mets.
Going into the 2013 season, Lagares was not considered for any of the vacant outfield positions. Making his Major League debut on April 23rd, Lagares did not get consistent playing time until mid-June when Rick Ankiel was released. Lagares started every game until the end of the season hitting .251 with a .291 on base percentage and a .363 slugging percentage.
But that is not why the 25-year-old has enchanted fans and some members of the Mets front office. In addition to a full highlight reel of spectacular catches, he finished the year tied for the league lead in outfield assists with 14, led the league in defensive runs saved with 26, posting a 21.5 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), an advanced metric which measures defensive range.
General Manager Sandy Alderson has praised Lagares for his defensive prowess. But in interviews he has stated the one thing he wants the young outfielder to do is increase his on base percentage. This is a fair criticism, and in spring training Lagares has done so, hitting for a .296, average with a .356 on base percentage and a .370 slugging percentage.
Eric Young Jr., 28, was traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Mets on June 18th. His speed made an immediate impact for the Mets as the starting left fielder, becoming the first legitimate leadoff hitter for New York since the departure of Jose Reyes in the 2011 offseason. From his Mets debut the following day, until the end of the season Young stole 38 bases tallying 46 total steals, which led the National League. In his 91 games with the Mets, Young had a .251 batting average, .318 on base percentage and .329 slugging percentage.
Manager Terry Collins has stated that both will receive playing time, but options are limited. This past offseason, the Mets signed former All-Stars Chris Young and Curtis Granderson to play the corner outfield positions. Chris Young signed a one year $7.25 deal in November, while Granderson inked a four year $60 million contract in December. With his superior defense and similar skill-set, Lagares is the obvious choice to be the starting center fielder for the Mets. Young’s speed will be missed but he will make an impact coming off the bench.
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