Mets moving prospect McNeil around diamond

Defensive versatility will accelerate slugging infielder's ascension to Majors

July 13th, 2018

NEW YORK -- About a week ago, on a regular conference call that Mets officials hold with their player development staffers, the idea was floated to move prospect Jeff McNeil around the diamond. A natural second baseman, McNeil spent a bit of time at third base and shortstop earlier this season at Double-A Binghamton. But after a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas last month, he became entrenched at his old position.

That changed Thursday, when McNeil played third for the first time at Triple-A -- part of an organizational plan that should help McNeil take the final leap to the big leagues in the coming weeks.

"With the way the season's gone, we have to get him playing some different positions," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "The way his season's gone, his ability to swing the bat, put together good at-bats, he's probably earned the right to have a chance up in the big leagues at some point. For him to have the best possible chance, we think him moving around would be valuable."

Not among the Mets' Top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, McNeil is a former 12th-round Draft pick who entered Friday with a .311 batting average over six Minor League seasons. This year, he batted .327 with 14 home runs in 57 games at Binghamton. In 22 games since moving to Las Vegas, McNeil has hit at a .386 clip.

The issue is McNeil's defense, which scouts have criticized as below average throughout his Minor League career. Exposing McNeil to multiple positions, as the Mets did with just before he arrived in the Majors, could help make him a more valuable defender. Callaway said he sees McNeil as a potential "super-utility guy" in the big leagues.

While many have called for McNeil's promotion already, that may have to wait just a bit longer. With Flores and among those rumored in trade talks prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, McNeil could step in for any infielders shipped away as the Mets look toward 2019.

The Mets could also designate struggling veteran for assignment to make room for McNeil, but have shown hesitancy to do so at this point. As such, McNeil's debut is likely still a week or two away.

"He's a valuable asset at this point," Callaway said. "We think that moving him around is going to give him the best chance to help us up here, and help us be the best team we can possibly be."