PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The much ballyhooed spring training switch of Jeff McNeil from the infield to the outfield could be put on hold as the Mets survey their options at third base for Opening Day.
Manager Mickey Callaway said on Tuesday that the club is still talking about whether to give McNeil reps at third in the continued absence of the injured Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie.
Frazier began running on Tuesday as he recovers from a strained oblique muscle. Lowrie hasn’t even attempted that much as he waits for a strained left knee to heal. The March 28 season opener at Washington is in doubt for both veterans.
The Mets were off Wednesday and will resume their spring training schedule on Thursday when Jacob deGrom faces Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals in West Palm Beach.
Who will man third base behind deGrom? Callaway has been using Adeiny Hechavarria and J.D. Davis at the hot corner, but McNeil could be in the mix soon.
“We have options over there,” Callaway said. “We’re still discussing whether or not we need to make an adjustment with McNeil and bring him in there. We have Hech who can play over there. We have J.D. Davis, who I think has done a pretty good job over there. So we have some options and we still have a lot of spring training left where we can get to see more and more of those three guys at third base.’’
McNeil played mostly second base in his sparkling major-league debut in 2018, when he hit .329 in 225 at-bats. After the Mets traded for Robinson Cano, Callaway hatched a plan to play McNeil in left with Brandon Nimmo in center and Michael Conforto in right, at least against righthanders.
But the injuries to Frazier and Lowrie have given the Mets pause to reconsider. One positive to moving McNeil back to the infield would be the ability to play either Keon Broxton or Juan Lagares full-time in center, which would improve the Mets’ outfield defense.
Even if Frazier and Lowrie miss Opening Day, the Mets do expect both back eventually. So any move with McNeil could be reversed when that happens.
“They’re obviously in different spots of their progression,” Callaway said of Frazier and Lowrie. “And it’s not the same progression. It’s totally different things. One is a lower-half injury and Todd’s is kind of upper half.”
Callaway said the team’s experience with Jason Vargas last spring training may make him more cautious about bringing a player back from injury too quickly. Vargas suffered a broken non-pitching hand and the Mets did all they could to get him back on the mound — with disastrous results.
“If you look at what we’ve done in the past, the thing you have to think about that is you have to be careful,” Callaway said. “Because if you miss all of spring training — those are valuable at-bats. Say you have your whole spring training and then you get hurt and then you take two to three weeks off, you can kind of push it coming back because you had the spring training at-bats.
“It’s kind of like Vargas getting hit in the hand last year. He wanted to pitch so bad. We needed him. We went ahead and pitched him and probably did him a disservice at that time. So you have to be careful doing that. So there’s really no set number of at-bats or reps that I can give you, but we need to make sure that they’re totally ready to be 100 percent at the major-league level when we bring them up.”