In preparation for calling up Jeff McNeil to the major leagues, the Mets plan to have the 26-year-old second baseman work at several positions with Triple-A Las Vegas to improve his defensive versatility.
McNeil wasn’t much of a prospect entering the season — and perhaps still isn’t — but his breakout year at Double-A Binghamton and now Las Vegas, combined with the Mets’ issues, have turned him into a major-league option.
“The way his season’s gone, his ability to swing the bat, put together good at-bats — he’s probably earned the right to have a chance at the big leagues at some point,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “For him to have the best possible chance, we think him moving around would be valuable.”
That’s a stark departure from Callaway’s stance Monday, when he was asked if McNeil was considered for a promotion when third baseman Todd Frazier went on the disabled list. “He’s purely a second baseman,” Callaway said then, citing trade candidate Asdrubal Cabrera’s continued presence on the roster. McNeil has played mostly second, lots of third and some shortstop/outfield across six minor-league seasons.
McNeil played second exclusively for seven weeks until Thursday, when he started at third base for the first time with Las Vegas (and 149th time in his career). He was in leftfield Friday night, and he homered. Reps at shortstop are also on deck.
The Mets’ 12th-round draft pick in 2013, McNeil lost most of the 2016-17 seasons to injury. This year, he burst on to the scene by batting .327 with a .402 on-base percentage and .626 slugging percentage in a half-season in Binghamton. In 22 games with Las Vegas, he has a .386/.444/.636 slash line.
“There’s a lot of guys that think he can be very solid in the outfield and there’s a lot of our player development people who think he can be a super-utility guy because his bat is so good,” Callaway said. “He’s a valuable asset at this point. We think moving him around is going to give him the best chance to help us up here and help us be the best team we can possibly be.”
With the Mets contemplating demoting first baseman/outfielder Dominic Smith — relegated to a part-time role in the majors the past month — Callaway said finding him playing time is the biggest factor.
Wilmer Flores has gotten most of the at-bats at first. The Mets have experimented with Smith in the outfield but have other options there.
“It’s really about other components, not just Dom himself,” Callaway said. “We want to put him in a place where he can be as effective as possible and help us as much as possible.”
Entering play Friday, Smith had a .183/.205/.324 slash line in the majors this year.
In a tangent on team-building philosophy, Callaway seemed to contradict two pillars of the Mets’ Sandy Alderson era: “Defense needs to be paramount when you’re a pitching team. And I think that diversity in your hitters is also something that can be important so you can manufacture runs when the other team is pitching really well, too.” . . . Yoenis Cespedes (strained right hip flexor) ran the bases again Friday, and the Mets hope he is nearing rehab games . . . The Mets optioned lefthander P.J. Conlon to Triple-A Las Vegas to make room for Noah Syndergaard, who started Friday.