New York Mets: Jeff McNeil is preparing to defend the hot corner

Jul 14, 2019; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets left fielder Jeff McNeil (6) rounds the bases after a lead off home run against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

No one has told Jeff McNeil that he will be the New York Mets starting third baseman. However, given the overall depth in the outfield and the uncertainty around Jed Lowrie (health, role and performance) he will man the position most nights.

Last year, McNeil prepared to be a left fielder in the Mets’ defensive alignment in spring training. However, injuries struck. Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie suffered physical issues and the team moved McNeil to the hot corner earlier in the season.

Then Frazier returned and the batting machine had to move to the outfield again.

But this time around, McNeil seems to be at the top of the New York Mets’ depth chart at third base. He said, at the beginning of spring training, that the hot corner will be less demanding to his body than left field.

“Just kind of knowing where you are going to be every single day, you’re going to be at third, you kind of know what it takes,” McNeil said Monday to the New York Post. “[You] know how your body feels and we have a great training staff here to help me get through anything, so I am looking forward to it.”

The Mets’ best option

The advanced metrics say that third base is actually McNeil’s best position. It’s not even close. He can play second and left field adequately, but in 154.1 innings in the hot corner in 2019, he registered a 19.4 UZR/150, a 2.4 UZR and 3 DRS.

No matter the position, the Mets need his bat on the lineup day in, day out. He was an offensive star in 2019, slashing .318/.384/.531 with a .384 wOBA and a 143 wRC+. He had a 4.6 fWAR mark.

“I think I was kind of two different hitters last year,” McNeil said. “I mean, there was nothing I did that changed, it’s just how it was. I hit a little more home runs in the second half than the first. I hit a little higher average in the first, but nothing changed. I just kind of what happened so we’ll see how it is this year.”