The sound of ball meeting glove can once again be heard in Port St. Lucie, which can only mean one thing, Mets baseball is right around the corner.
For the first time in recent history, there is not much mystery in Mets camp.
Fans are well educated on the current status of Yoenis Cespedes, there is no talk of a potential Noah Syndergaard trade, and no speculation of a future Rookie of the Year being held in AAA due to service time concerns. Besides a pitching battle for the last two spots in the rotation, it looks as if the picture of the 2020 Mets is crystal clear.
Of course, when there are no glaring concerns, it leaves time to focus on more of the minor details. One of those would be who is going to be the first Met batter to step into the box at the bottom of the 1st come March 26th at Citi Field.
Luis Rojas right now has 3 viable options, all of which have positives and negatives.
Jeff McNeil proved any potential doubters wrong in his sophomore season. After hitting an impressive .329 over 63 games in his rookie season, Jeff followed that up with an All-Star campaign in 2019. McNeil spent the majority of 2019 hitting leadoff and saw elite success. While leading off the game McNeil hit .322 with a .359 OBP. Out of his 23 home runs last year, 14 came on the first pitch of his at-bat.
Jeff has mastered the art of ambushing first-pitch fastballs, and where else in the lineup is a batter more likely to get a first-pitch fastball than leadoff?
In theory, there is really no wrong spot in the order for a player like Jeff but there are spots where his talent won’t be utilized to its fullest. Leadoff could be one of them. The downside to slotting him in the leadoff spot is the limits it puts on his production. For a guy with such an incredible ability to put the ball in play (he only struck out 75 times last season) he might be better served to have an opportunity to drive in runs rather than setting table.
One can only speculate the numbers he might produce if he had someone the likes of Pete Alonso protecting him in the order.
Luis Rojas’ second option is Amed Rosario. To the eye, Amed would seem to be the prototypical leadoff man that every club would love to have. An athletically gifted shortstop with an elite speed that would be able to make things happen on the basepaths. In theory, the Mets might have that guy. They just haven’t seen him yet. Maybe to become the leadoff hitter the Mets expected him to be, he might have to do just that, hit leadoff. After all, there really isn’t any greater way to test your metal in something than doing it. He has all the variables to become great at it, he just hasn’t had the results to justify the experiment.
Sporting a career OBP of .305 doesn’t necessarily scream leadoff hitter. Neither does his pedestrian total of 19 stolen bases in 29 attempts last season. Those 10 attempts where he was caught actually led the Major Leagues. However, something that should be pointed out is the leaps and bounds Rosario took in the second half last season. He hit well over his career average (.319 compared to .270) and coupled that with an OBP much more respectable compared to his first half (.351 to .299).
Amed has shown glimpses of excellence and might have finally tapped into his true potential across the last 70 games of 2019. Now maybe all he needs is the chance to prove the leadoff spot should belong to him.
The last option in first-year manager Luis Rojas’ toolbox is Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo spent roughly one-third of the 2018 batting leadoff for the Mets and saw some very good success. His on-base percentage when leading off a game was a staggering .446. This was due to him having some of the best eyes at the plate in baseball which contributes to his career OBP of .387. He mixes his impressive OBP with decent speed and an unmatched hustle on the basepath.
He is a fan favorite in Queens, has earned the nickname of “The Happiest Man in Baseball ” and most fans would be content with him taking the first at-bat for the 2020 Mets.
However, there is a downside lurking. At times it almost may seem as if Nimmo goes up to the plate with one thought in mind, walk. It can cause him to become passive at times when he should be more aggressive. This has led to his strikeout numbers being on the high side for a guy you would like to see put the ball in play more. In order to draw walks, you need to take pitches. Taking pitches in the big leagues will often end with you being down in the count. Brandon struck out nearly twice as many times as he walked back in 2018 (140 and 80).
Strikeouts have been steadily increasing throughout the league for years now but Nimmo isn’t a guy who is concerned about launch angle and exit velocity. He will need to figure out how to cut down on the strikeouts while maintaining his upper echelon OBP if he wants to lay claim to the leadoff role in 2020.
All in all, having options is a good thing. Having three guys to potentially plug into the leadoff role on any given day for Rojas will only benefit the club over the course of the season. This is one of those “good problems to have” scenarios. It is simply figuring out how to maximize this offense’s potential. It is likely we will see each of the previously mentioned three batting first at some point in the season and maybe that will be the key.
Piecing together the lineup each day according to the opposition’s starter might be the route Luis Rojas goes with.
One thing we can be certain of though is the leadoff spot in the batting order is going to be crucial to the Mets’ success in this season.
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