Maggie Wiggin, Contributor
Juan Lagares went 2 for 4 with a run scored Tuesday against the Braves. It was his first multi-hit game since his return from the disabled list. He capped off his successful night with another highlight-reel catch that saw him chase down a deep fly ball across half the outfield.
Despite these good signs last night, it’s been a struggle for Lagares over the past week and his OPS has dropped 30 points to .737 since he was sidelined with an intercostal strain. He has struck out in 35% of his plate appearances, drawing no walks. He also recorded his first error of the season on Tuesday night, but I have less concern about that as he is still showing the incredible range and instincts in the field, which continue to make him a Gold Glove-caliber centerfielder…
In a very small sample size, his throws have been somewhat less accurate than we’re accustomed to, but that’s another area that could still be affected by his injury and it’s far too soon for a meaningful pattern to emerge there.
Abdominal injuries have notoriously lingering effects on hitters and Lagares had just 4 rehab starts so it’s very likely his strength and bat speed are still working their way back to full power. Going forward, I’d like to see him strike out less and get back some of the extra base power from his line drive swing. While his glove will always be his defining tool, the team needs him to be at least an average hitter as they struggle to score.
Overall, Lagares has had a good season, but there is much room for development and some cause for concern. He’s walking and striking out at almost identical rates as he did last season and though he’s shown a little more power, it’s far from certain he can continue to hit above league average in the long term with this approach.
Selectivity is the key area Lagares needs to focus on, as he readily expands the strike zone and swings wildly. Not only will this cut down on the strikeouts and increase his walk rate, but opposing pitchers will learn he can’t be relied upon to expand the zone and he will see more pitches he can hit squarely. He will never hit for homerun power, but Citi Field will afford him plenty of opportunities to rack up the doubles.
Outside of the injuries, Lagares has a lot to be happy about this season, but still has work to do. Hopefully last night was an indication that he’s shaken off the rust and is ready to take on the rest of the season.