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Yoenis Cespedes will get handle on centerfield this spring

NY Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes talks to

NY Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes talks to hitting coach Kevin Long after batting practice during a spring training workout, Sunday Feb. 21, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Though he’s better suited to playing on the corners, Yoenis Cespedes will see plenty of time in centerfield this season. But manager Terry Collins on Sunday did not rule out using former Gold Glover Juan Lagares as a late-game defensive replacement when the Mets are protecting slim leads.

“You guys ask me questions about the season that I can’t answer right now until I see what it’s going to look like,” Collins said. “The one thing we do know is if Juan plays like we know how he can play in centerfield, we’ve got to get him out there when the game’s on the line. That’s something we’ve got to consider.”

Against lefthanded starting pitching, Lagares could see more playing time, which would allow the Mets to push Cespedes into a less demanding spot in leftfield. But that arrangement could be less common that it was last year. Leftfielder Michael Conforto is expected to face more lefties, which would keep Cespedes in center.

“[I’ll] be ready for wherever [I’m] going to play,” Cespedes said through a translator.

Cespedes, 30, has played far more major-league games in left (409) than he has in center (115). The disparity of that experience gap showed up twice under the bright lights of the World Series.

In Game 1, Cespedes misplayed the first pitch of the game into an inside-the-park homer by Alcides Escobar. In Game 4, he booted Salvador Perez’s drive and turned it into a double.

Despite his supreme athleticism and an arm that might be one of the strongest in the major leagues, Cespedes lacks the range of a prototypical centerfielder.

Advanced defensive metrics rate him as below average in centerfield, though his body of work there hasn’t produced enough of a sample size to draw any definitive conclusions.

Last week, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson reiterated his hope that more practice in centerfield during spring training will translate into a higher comfort level during the regular season.

Collins echoed that sentiment Sunday, noting that Cespedes had not played centerfield last season until his July 31 trade to the Mets.

“You’ve got to remember now, this guy has spent three years in [left],” Collins said. “He comes to our ballpark, which is a tough place to play, and I ask him to go to centerfield. And I asked an awful lot of him. I thought he did pretty well.”

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