Michael Baron, Contributor
On Sunday, Terry Collins suggested to reporters only Eric Young Jr. and Chris Young are being considered as the team’s leadoff hitter heading into the regular season.
Collins said, if Juan Lagares is the center fielder, Chris Young would be the leadoff hitter and left fielder. Otherwise, Eric Young Jr. would be the everyday left fielder hitting in the leadoff spot, with Chris Young in center.
“It’s going to be a tough call,” Collins said on Sunday. “We know what Juan is defensively — he’s as good a center fielder as there is. But we’ve gotta take a look at both sides of the baseball. We’ve gotta make sure we can do something about producing some runs. We can’t have a lot of holes.”
No matter what, it’s highly likely Lagares will be on the active roster when camp breaks later this month (Rubin, March 9).
Eric Young Jr. certainly has shown glimpses of being a quality leadoff hitter. I love his speed and his potential to transform the lineup and disrupt games on the base paths. However, he is probably best suited as a fourth outfielder or utility infielder. Otherwise – as was the case last year – he runs the risk of being overexposed.
On the flip side, there might be just as many questions about Lagares. He swung at way too many pitches outside the strike zone last year and he needs to get on-base more frequently. He did show promise in the Dominican League this past winter, but the regular season is a different animal.
However, his ability to take runs away from the opposition with his glove might outweigh his offensive deficiencies. Team insiders acknowledged the value of outfield defense during the off-season, especially at Citi Field and the other big ballparks in the division. I agree, and I ultimately believe Lagares has a greater ability to contribute towards winning – with his defense alone – than any other current centerfield option on the 40-man roster.
I have to believe the Mets will value Lagares’ superior defense to what Eric Young Jr. might be able to contribute offensively. Lagares, flanked by Chris Young and Curtis Granderson, form one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. If winning is as important as people within the organization say it is, then putting the best combination out there, which plays to the strengths of their ballpark, should be the top priority.