The Mets' Jeff McNeil follows through on a home run against...

The Mets' Jeff McNeil follows through on a home run against the Mariners during the fifth inning of a game on Sunday at Citi Field. Credit: Noah K. Murray

WASHINGTON — In the Mets’ late-season experiment with Ronny Mauricio, Jeff McNeil is ready to do his part.

Mauricio is in the majors for the first time because the Mets want to get a sense of what he might be, how he might figure into their plans for 2024 and beyond. For the past week, that has meant the rookie starting every game at second base, which bumped McNeil to the outfield, mostly left. When Mauricio shifts to left, which manager Buck Showalter has hinted will happen, McNeil will move yet elsewhere.

All that — moving around for the benefit of the newbie — is fine by McNeil, a batting champion and two-time All-Star. That is true of this month and next year.

“If this works, if Mauricio is able to play an everyday second base, that’s awesome. That’s even better for the team,” McNeil, primarily a second baseman, said. “It allows me to go to the outfield and play second base on days that he’s not playing or we have injuries. That’s always been what’s so good about me. If someone goes down, I just go fill their spot. Plug me in and I’m gonna go play. That’s what I take a lot of pride in, being able to do that and embracing that role.”

This is, of course, the latest iteration of what McNeil has done since college, bouncing around the field based on the needs of those around him. He prefers to play all over because “it keeps things fresh,” he said. In recent months, he has played every position but third base, pitcher and catcher.

Third briefly was an option, too, Buck Showalter told him last month, albeit not so much now with Brett Baty and Mark Vientos on the roster. The manager asked/checked to see if McNeil cared where he played. McNeil told him: “Put me wherever you need me.”

His is a life Mauricio might live. General manager Billy Eppler has referred to Mauricio as a potential everyday multi-position guy, a la McNeil or the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu. As the Mets have worked to expand his defensive versatility, Mauricio, a shortstop most of his life, has started to learn second, third and left in the past year. His abilities at each spot come with questions, though.

“It takes a certain person to be good at it,” McNeil said. “You have to have the athleticism and baseball instincts. I haven’t played with him a lot, but from what I’ve seen so far, he’s handled second base great. If he keeps moving around and is able to do that for us, that’s awesome.”

Showalter said: “We’re lucky to have [McNeil]. When we were at our best last year and this year, we were able to move him around a lot. He really likes it. He likes bringing that skill that not everybody has. He can play about anywhere.”

The Mets’ influx of young hitters, if they are deemed worthy of a regular role, and the versatility of McNeil make for numerous possibilities for 2024. The puzzle of next year’s team includes a bunch of pieces that fit in a variety of spots.  

Maybe they decide on this alignment, with Mauricio the guy at second and McNeil in left. Maybe it’s the reverse. Maybe Starling Marte still can’t play so they go with McNeil in right, Mauricio in left and someone else at second. Maybe Mauricio isn’t ready for a full-time gig and returns to the minors, allowing the Mets to add the best second baseman or corner outfielder they can/want and McNeil plays the other spot.

“It opens up things for Billy [Eppler] and them in the offseason,” Showalter said. “If they want to go do something, Jeff could play four or five places and play well.”

That works for McNeil.

“I know I’m good at whatever position I play,” he said. “I think I’m an above-average outfielder, I’m an above-average infielder. So you want the nine best major-leaguers on the field and helping the team win. If he plays second and I play left, that’s awesome. I really don’t care where I play.”


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