LOS ANGELES — For weeks, the Mets have flirted heavily with one of their possible futures: Amed Rosario, leadoff man. It was something close to a bold move when Mickey Callaway regularly started to pencil in his speedy 22-year-old shortstop at the top of the lineup, considering Rosario’s suboptimal on-base skills, but in hindsight it can be viewed as a vote of confidence that led to a boost in confidence.
Now that potential 2019 mainstay has a sibling: Jeff McNeil, No. 2 hitter.
The Rosario-McNeil lineup construct is in play as the Mets’ norm for next season, as far as Callaway is concerned.
“I like the two of them at the top of the lineup,” Callaway said. “There’s value to it, especially with the way our lineup is right now.”
The “right now” hedge is an important one. As with many of the discussions regarding next year’s Mets — maybe leaving the rotation untouched, maybe building a bullpen around Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, maybe making Jay Bruce the full-time first baseman — this comes with the caveat that the Mets still lack a general manager. When one is hired, he’ll have his own feelings about the roster and a winter’s worth of his own moves to make.
But for now, the Mets can only evaluate the players they have, and they seem to like what they have in Rosario and McNeil individually and as a pair.
Rosario is hitting .333 with a .475 slugging percentage in the past month, giving the Mets a prolonged look at the type of dynamic player they think he can be. Since arriving in the majors July 24, the day after Rosario began his tenure as the usual leadoff guy, McNeil has a .321 average and .848 OPS, which would be a top-20 mark in the NL (and tied for third among second basemen) if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
Batting McNeil second is a significant departure from Callaway’s early-season philosophy of using the team’s best batter there — Yoenis Cespedes was the choice to begin the year — and in line with the old-school thinking of choosing a slappy contact table-setter behind the fast No. 1 hitter.
“If you got four, five guys out there just hitting homers and you got a guy that’s going out there hitting .330, hitting 30 homers and driving in 110, he probably needs to be in the two-hole,” Callaway said. “We don’t have that. With who we have currently, I love the idea of being a little more traditional and [McNeil] hitting in that two-hole and making some things happen. Because we score more runs when that happens.”
McNeil, for his part, said he is most comfortable hitting second, having spent much of his minor-league career there. He is a big fan of stepping to the plate with Rosario on first.
“They’re holding him on and playing double-play depth, so there’s a big hole there,” McNeil said. “It frees me up to pull the ball a little bit. It’s going well. I think we do pretty well up there.”
Rosario of late seems to have adopted part of McNeil’s plate approach: just put the ball in play. Callaway has cited McNeil’s contact skills as a reason he is a good hitter — and super-annoying to pitch to — and Rosario, in explaining his recent successes, echoed that, perhaps unintentionally.
“What I’m doing right now is working on putting the ball in play,” he said through an interpreter. “I trust myself a lot more than I did at the beginning.”
The Mets remain believers in Rosario’s power potential, a sentiment Callaway reiterated Wednesday after Rosario and McNeil got on base five times and scored four runs in a 7-3 win over the Dodgers. But for now, merely making contact is good enough.
“If he continues to stay through the ball and go the other way, the home runs are going to come. He’s got a lot of raw power,” Callaway said of Rosario. “The main thing is when he gets his pitch, he doesn’t miss it. He’s getting a base hit, he’s not trying to do too much. We see a lot of line drives just over the second baseman’s head, things like that. For the hitter he is at this point, I think that’s very vital for him to have success moving forward.”