As far as wrists go, the injury that ended Jeff McNeil’s season last year could very well be considered a lucky break.
Granted, it didn’t seem like that at the time, when McNeil was crouched in agony near home plate, having taken Josh Smith’s 3-and-2 pitch to the wrist, fracturing it and eventually requiring surgery. But the All-Star utilityman said Wednesday that the break was high up enough on his ulna that he’s not worried about his range of motion come spring training, and that after his Oct. 2 surgery, he’ll be 100 percent when he descends on Port St. Lucie, Florida next month.
“I’m feeling good and I’m basically back to my normal offseason routine now,” said McNeil, from his home in California. The break “was not really on the joint or where it flexes. It’s higher up, so I’m not too worried about the swing or anything like that. The doctors and the training staff were like, ‘You broke it in a great place’…If you’re going to break it, break it right there.
“No worries. No problems. The swing is completely fine.”
And so goes McNeil’s decidedly unique offseason. He had surgery, wore a soft cast for a while, and eventually got to the point where he could hit off a tee. Right now, he’s working on building his strength up.
“At first it was about getting the range of motion back,” he said. “Being able to turn my wrist over all the way. Then it was about getting the strength back, so I’m working harder, but that’s 100 percent now.”
The entire time, teams repeatedly floated his name in possible trades, attracted by his versatility on the field, his high-contact approach at the plate, and the fact that he’s under team control until 2025. The Mets balked, which seems reasonable given that McNeil was in the mix for the batting title last year, but fairly impressive considering he was a Rule 5 draft player that some once assessed as being a career minor-league talent. Now, he enters the season with an automatic spot on the roster, strong fan support, and having had his face plastered on stadium giveaways, like the T-shirt that has him donning a squirrel tail, an homage to his nickname.
“A couple years ago, I was on the Rule 5 draft and I guess no one wanted me,” he said. “It was a really tough couple of years. I knew I had the talent and everything, but I missed a bunch of time [thanks to injuries]. When I had the opportunity to play, I made the most of it, so to see where I am now, see where I was two years ago, it’s pretty incredible.”
McNeil said he’s spoken to Carlos Beltran once, and liked the idea of having a manager who wasn’t far removed from playing the game himself. McNeil doesn’t know where he’ll slot in defensively yet, but Beltran has plenty of options: He played left, right, third and second last year, during which he compiled a slash line of .318/.385/.531.
“We’re just trying to build off what we did last year,” McNeil said. “Last year was a really exciting second half to the season. We played really well [and] kind of gave ourselves a shot to get to the playoffs…Everyone is going to come to camp extremely confident."
Also, apropos of nothing, but nonetheless important to fans who follow McNeil: He and his wife got a kitten. (The orange tabby shelter cat, Mac, gets along famously with his celebrity sister, Willow, the puppy the McNeils adopted from the annual North Shore adoption event at Citi Field. Their various hijinks are recorded on Willow’s Instagram page, which has 14,000 followers.)
“They’re always snuggling,” he said. “They’re extremely comfortable with each other and I think it’s nice to get the cat when he’s really young, so he gets used to the dog, and the dog is still a puppy.”
Dogs and cats snuggling together. Lucky break there, too.
Notes & quotes: The Mets released infielder Sam Haggerty, who went 0-for-4 in 11 games (mostly as a pinch runner) last season. Haggerty was designated for assignment when the Mets signed Dellin Betances.