PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets manager Terry Collins offered some clarity about his plans for the outfield yesterday, hinting strongly that both Eric Young Jr. and Juan Lagares would make the Opening Day roster.
Later on a team official took things a step further, saying explicitly that the Mets intend to carry both players to begin the season, leaving Collins to juggle their playing time.
But those reassurances also come with a caveat: hit, or else.
The Mets have been determined to improve an offense that ranked 12th in the National League in run scoring , and 15th in OPS [.672]. And that means getting something offensively out of Young and Lagares.
According to the official, the Mets won’t wait long to make changes if they don’t get what they need offensively from either player.
For all of Young’s speed, it’s unclear whether he’ll reach base enough to fully take advantage of it. He’s being considered for playing time because the Mets view him as the only logical leadoff man on the roster. But he’ll need to improve on the .310 on-base percentage he posted a year ago.
For all of Lagares’ defensive wizardry in centerfield -- which he showed off once more on Thursday -- it’s not a given that he can manage even a modest .300 on-base percentage in the big leagues. The Mets have been pleased with his effort in spring training though they want to see more a more patient plate approach. Lagares posted only a .281 on-base percentage last year.
While the Mets recognize his elite defensive range -- he provided yet another example on Thursday -- they are not willing to simply accept pitcher-like production in the starting lineup.
For Young, a slow start would likely land him in a bench role, while Lagares could wind up back in Triple-A Las Vegas so he could play every day and improve his offensive approach.
But at the beginning of the season, the Mets plan to have both Young Jr. and Lagares split time in the outfield.
Curtis Granderson, who signed a four-year $60-million deal, will hold down rightfield. Chris Young, who agreed to a one-year, $7.25-million contract, will see plenty of time in both leftfield and in centerfield.
Young only got 335 at-bats last season while struggling in a bench role for the A’s. But he still hit 12 homers despite limited action, leading the Mets to hope that more playing time leads to more power. Even if he stumbles out of the gate, the team official said Young will likely get plenty of at-bats to turn things around.
But that courtesy won’t extend to either Eric Young Jr. or Lagares, who will battle for the remainder of the playing time. Young is hitting .298/.377/.383 this spring with three stolen bases in four tries. Lagares is hitting .296/.356/.370 though he has 11 strikeouts to just four walks.