The best time of year has finally arrived; Spring Training has officially kicked off and Opening Day is a short 36 days away.
In reality, the regular season is not really close and MLB teams are really just getting their players in the swing of things to prepare for the long season. One thing that does happen at this time of year in baseball is competition begins. Every team has spots in their lineup, rotation, and/or bullpen that are open for competition.
The Mets certainly fit in that group with a lot of spots up for grabs in both the pitching rotation and bullpen. When it comes to position players though, there is not too much competition to be had in Mets camp. Dom Smith will be fighting an uphill battle to pry away the starting First Base job from the veteran Adrian Gonzalez but besides that when it comes to position battles there is only one other place that is not 100% solidified.
That position is Center Field, a position that is likely to be occupied by the Gold Glover, Juan Lagares as long as he shows some improvement at the plate with his new swing. However, if Lagares cannot hit with his new and improved swing former first-round draft pick, Brandon Nimmo may be able to sneak out of camp as the Opening Day Center Fielder.
The Center Field battle is a pretty fluid situation but Juan Lagares is favorited to win the job out of camp. The reason I bring up this situation is because depending on who comes out of camp playing Center Field the Mets lineup may look very different on Opening Day.
The Mets have a very talented team with a lot of veteran talent in the starting lineup and on the bench but they do have one major flaw. They don’t have a quintessential leadoff hitter that has speed and is a good contact hitter penciled into their starting lineup.
When you look at the Mets position players they have a few guys who are good leadoff hitters and they are Jose Reyes, who has batted leadoff 1442 times at the major league level with great success, Brandon Nimmo, a guy who fits the mold of the new leadoff hitter that has a high OBP and takes a lot of pitches, and Michael Conforto, arguably the best player on the Mets but he will be out of the lineup until May.
Besides the fact that Conforto simply is not an option to leadoff at this point the other two options are not reliable either. If Nimmo wins the job in Center Field, yes he will most likely be the guy batting first for the Mets on March 29th but the odds are that he will be a backup out of camp as long as Lagares has some success at the plate. Reyes is going to be the Mets super utility guy this season playing all over the diamond to give guys breaks throughout the year.
When Reyes is in the lineup the odds are that he will leadoff unless someone has succeeded in that spot simply because that is where he belongs, he has speed, a solid bat, and a good eye at the plate, even at age 35.
Now, let’s look at the other options the Mets have to bat leadoff on Opening Day.
Asdrubal Cabrera is probably the most likely option here. The reason is simple, he is the definition of a professional hitter, he always takes good at-bats, puts the ball in play, and is not afraid to take a walk either. The last two seasons with the Mets he has hit .280 with an OBP of .343, solid numbers for a leadoff guy but he does have flaws as well.
Cabby is not a very mobile guy these days as he has two bad knees that have really slowed him down, also he has been a mainstay in the two hole for the Mets so moving him up would create another hole in the Mets lineup that would be challenging to fill.
The second option for the Mets is a bit surprising to most, Todd Frazier has been thrown around as a guy that may leadoff for the Mets. Last season Frazier batted a measly .213 but he had an OBP of .344 which is similar to what Cabrera has done for the Mets. Now Frazier doesn’t have much speed but he is a highly regarded baserunner and his pop at the top of the lineup is undeniably scary.
You could compare what Frazier could do to what Curtis Granderson did for the Mets the past four seasons. Grandy hit for a low average, .239 over four seasons but had an OBP of .341 in a Mets uniform and hit at least 20 home runs in three of the four seasons 19 in the other. Granderson had experience leading off before he came to the Mets and Frazier has none but it is an interesting proposition that makes sense in today’s baseball.
Lagares is the third option for a very simple reason, it won’t disrupt the lineup. Lagares has never been a good hitter consistently nor has he been a guy known for getting on-base. Yes, he has retooled his swing and I think everyone is excited to see if he can become even just an average hitter to add to his elite defense.
The problem here is he will most likely still be a free swinger, it has not been stated that his approach at the plate will be different just that he will be joining the launch angle movement. What I was saying before about him leading off not disrupting the lineup is in regards to when he is not in the lineup.
Lagares is not going to play every day until Conforto returns, it is likely Nimmo will spell him once or twice a week regardless of his performance to keep him fresh. As I said before Nimmo is a good modern day leadoff hitter so when he plays unless Reyes is in the lineup he’ll bat first. Also if Lagares plays with Reyes it is likely that Reyes will bat first with Lagares sliding down in the order.
Further discussing how Lagares batting first will not disrupt the lineup will include Conforto. When Conforto returns it is likely he will bat leadoff. Conforto is truly a number three hitter but he gets on base, has power, and can run the bases well while having an ability to hit .300. So, in the end, don’t be surprised to see Lagares bat leadoff a lot in April.
The dark horse candidate to break camp as the Mets leadoff hitter is Amed Rosario. The young and exciting shortstop is the heir apparent to the first spot in the Mets lineup. He has speed and a great bat and is truly a classic leadoff hitter. When he fully develops he will hit .290-.300 with an OBP around .340-.360.
He is similar to a young Jose Reyes in many ways which shouldn’t surprise you. Reyes has taken Rosario under his wing in his return to the Mets and the two are reportedly inseparable. In his short time in the majors last season Rosario had moments where he flashed greatness at the plate and in the field, but he was far too aggressive at the plate, likely because he was trying too hard.
He is never going to be like Nimmo at the plate and take a lot of pitches but he can easily be like a young Reyes who had a solid eye at the plate walked a bit but usually put the ball in play then wreaked havoc on the bases.
Don’t be surprised if at some point sooner rather than later Rosario takes the reigns at the top of the order this season.
However, if I was a betting man I would have to say Asdrubal Cabrera or Juan Lagares will be the Mets leadoff guy until Conforto returns from injury and after Conforto Rosario will get his shot. Nobody is competing to be the leadoff hitter but besides the pitching competitions at Mets camp, this is the most interesting thing to watch.
Expect the Mets Opening Day lineup to look like this.
- CF Juan Lagares
- 2B Asdrubal Cabrera
- LF Yoenis Cespedes
- RF Jay Bruce
- 3B Todd Frazier
- 1B Adrian Gonzalez
- C Travis d’Arnaud
- SS Amed Rosario
- P Jacob deGrom