PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Juan Lagares owns a Gold Glove for his work in centerfield. Yoenis Cespedes owns one for his defense in leftfield. Yet in consecutive Grapefruit League games, Lagares has started in left with Cespedes in center.
According to Mets manager Terry Collins, it’s possible that Cespedes will find himself anchored to centerfield during the season instead of bouncing between left and center based on matchups, as he did after arriving with the Mets last season.
“I haven’t decided what we’re going to do during the season,” Collins said of Cespedes. “But the only way to get better is to leave him out there and let him go play.”
Cespedes played centerfield against righties, with Michael Conforto stationed in left. Against lefties, former Gold Glover Lagares played center, with Cespedes shifting to left. But this season, Cespedes might stay put.
“You start going back and forth, back and forth, you never really get all that comfortable,” Collins said. “The fact that right now, that he’s going to be the centerfielder, I’m going to leave him there this spring especially so he just starts seeing the ball in practice, gets some more reps.”
General manager Sandy Alderson said before camp opened that Cespedes might be more comfortable playing centerfield if he got more action there in spring training. That work might be especially important for Cespedes, who played only leftfield for the Tigers before his July trade to the Mets.
Of course, those reps come with a downside. For instance, Lagares misplayed a slicing liner in Sunday’s 9-4 loss to the Red Sox. It was a play he wouldn’t ordinarily see in center.
“It was a little tough, but I got there,” Lagares said. “I was supposed to catch that one.”
Meanwhile, Cespedes has generally looked far less comfortable in centerfield than he has in left. He’s blessed with a strong throwing arm but his range is lacking in centerfield, where he’s responsible for covering much more ground.
Mostly, Cespedes held his own.
“That’s why I was impressed by it because he didn’t say anything,” Collins said. “He could have certainly said, ‘Look, I don’t play centerfield.’ He said, ‘OK, fine, I’ll go play centerfield.’ I thought he did a very good job.”
But at times, Cespedes also looked uncomfortable, which came to the forefront in the World Series.
In the first inning of Game 1, he misplayed Alcides Escobar’s leadoff drive into an inside-the-park homer. In Game 4, he accidentally kicked Salvador Perez’s drive into the gap.
The Mets harbored concerns about Cespedes’ defense in center even back at last year’s trade deadline.
Only after the Carlos Gomez trade fell through did the Mets consider Cespedes a viable trade target, mostly because of doubts about his ability to play centerfield. That thought factored into the Mets’ thinking again this offseason, one of the reasons they resolved to wait out the market for the slugger.
But with Cespedes back, the Mets have resolved to play him plenty in center, with Collins leaving open the possibility that he will stay there for good.
“So right now, we said coming into spring training, the one thing we have the opportunity to do is give him a lot more reps in center than he had last year when we first got him,” Collins said. “We’re just going to again watch and see what’s the best option.”
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