PORT ST. LUCIE — Jeff McNeil arrived at spring training this year projected to be the Mets’ everyday second baseman.
But as the versatile weapon who arrived at camp last year penciled in to be the Mets’ everyday third baseman — only to start nine games there — he knows better than to assume he will be glued to one position.
“Definitely go into spring training kind of assuming I’ll play everywhere,” McNeil said Monday after the first full-squad workout. “I imagine I will play a lot of second base, but at the same time, going to get my reps in at third, left, right. So much can change pretty quickly in this game, so you know you need to be ready to play some third or left or wherever the team needs me. But I imagine a lot of my reps will come at second base.”
McNeil started just nine games at second base last season during the shortened 60-game sprint, with the majority of his starts (26) coming in left field. But after Robinson Cano was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance in November, McNeil became his expected replacement, at least the most regular one. Manager Luis Rojas on Monday also mentioned Jonathan Villar and Luis Guillorme as other infielders who could see time at second.
Though McNeil started 52 of 53 games at second base in 2018, playing that position this season comes with the new twist of learning Francisco Lindor as a double-play partner. The two spoke of beginning that process on Monday as they started to get to know each other’s tendencies.
“I think it’s going to be huge for us to kind of take as many game-speed reps in practice to try and get in sync with each other,” McNeil said.
McNeil’s bat has been his calling card, but his defense has been solid as well. In three years with the Mets, he has registered one defensive run saved at second base, five at third base, two in left field and three in right field, per FanGraphs.
Still, he has his sights set on becoming an even more consistent hitter — regardless of where he’s playing in the field — after batting .329, .318 and .311 in his first three seasons.
“I hate those ups and downs — hitting .400 one week and hitting .200 the next week,” McNeil said. “That’s just tough for me. It all comes out to .300, but I’d rather just be .300 all year and just be consistent. So I think I’m going to focus on that. Just limiting the slumps to just a few days instead of a week here and week there.”