Nimmo, McNeil or Rosario: Who's hitting 1st?

February 18th, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For years after Jose Reyes left the first time in 2011, the Mets struggled to find a consistent leadoff hitter. They seemingly tried everyone, from Curtis Granderson to Eric Young Jr. to Ruben Tejada to Michael Conforto. Given the Mets’ roster construction over those years, none were perfect fits.

How times have changed. Suddenly, the Mets boast not one, not two, but three ideal leadoff options in , and . All three batted first at various times last season. All three enjoyed success in that spot. All three have skill sets well-suited to the job. How will they choose?

“We have a lot of guys that have a history of getting on base, that kind of have that profile,” manager Luis Rojas said. “That’s always a plus. You can play around and do different things with the matchups of who’s hitting behind who, who’s protecting who and who’s going to impact an at-bat when they’re on base.”

Rojas stopped short of naming a leadoff hitter, preferring to see the team in action before choosing. Here’s a look at his primary options and a potential lineup with each of three batting at the top:

Option No. 1: Brandon Nimmo

  1. Brandon Nimmo, CF
  2. Jeff McNeil, 3B
  3. Pete Alonso, 1B
  4. Michael Conforto, RF
  5. J.D. Davis, LF
  6. Robinson Canó, 2B
  7. Wilson Ramos, C
  8. Amed Rosario, SS

No current Met has more experience batting first than Nimmo, who spent most of his amateur and Minor League career doing just that. Over the past two seasons, only Rosario has hit leadoff more.

“It does matter,” Nimmo said. “If you’ve not done it before, then you might feel uncomfortable in that situation, possibly taking a pitch or even getting yourself to two strikes and just trying to battle. It’s something that I’ve done ever since I’ve been young, and so I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with it.”

Nimmo’s career average of 4.27 pitches per plate appearances leads all active Mets, as does his .387 on-base percentage. He brings speed and power to the equation, profiling, in many ways, as an ideal leadoff hitter. The downside of batting Nimmo first is that it would mean relatively fewer at-bats for McNeil, Alonso, Conforto and Davis, who were statistically the Mets’ four best hitters last season.

“I feel comfortable there,” Nimmo said. “I feel comfortable honestly anywhere in the lineup, because my approach doesn’t really change too much. But it fits in well in the leadoff spot.”

Option No. 2: Jeff McNeil

  1. McNeil, 3B
  2. Alonso, 1B
  3. Conforto, RF
  4. Davis, LF
  5. Canó, 2B
  6. Ramos, C
  7. Nimmo, CF
  8. Rosario, SS

Of the Mets’ three primary leadoff candidates, McNeil is the only one who doesn’t actually prefer that position.

“I enjoy hitting second,” McNeil said. “I think it kind of worked last year with Pete hitting third, but Luis knows us all really well. I’ve played for him for a number of years and he knows where we like to hit, and what works. We’ll see what happens this year.”

McNeil started 14 times in the two-hole last season, spending the bulk of his time at leadoff with Alonso behind him. That is again a likely alignment against right-handed pitchers, given that it maximizes at-bats for the Mets’ four top hitters. It’s also an option versus lefties, with Nimmo either batting lower in the order or shifting to the bench.

Considering he led all qualified Major Leaguers in swinging at 51 percent of the first pitches he saw last season, McNeil does not profile as a classic leadoff hitter. But there’s no arguing the success he enjoyed in that spot, batting .320 with a .907 OPS.

Option No. 3: Amed Rosario

  1. Rosario, SS
  2. McNeil, 3B
  3. Alonso, 1B
  4. Conforto, RF
  5. Davis, LF
  6. Canó, 2B
  7. Ramos, C
  8. Nimmo/Jake Marisnick, CF

The Mets are likely to use this configuration (or something similar) from time to time against left-handed pitchers, allowing them to take advantage of Rosario’s speed and platoon splits. He hit .311 with an .887 OPS against lefties last season, often batting first in those situations. Although Rosario saw more success batting eighth, he believes he benefits from leading off.

“I think in that case, the pitcher’s using more of his fastball,” Rosario said through an interpreter. “And with me having a quick swing, I’m able to take advantage of that.”

Like Nimmo and McNeil, Rosario is happy batting anywhere -- “As long as I’m playing, that’s how I feel comfortable,” he said.

And that’s the reality for a team with multiple leadoff options: all of them will likely man the role at some point, as the Mets look for matchups and situations ideal for each hitter.