We know Jeff McNeil's role with the Mets in 2019 will be primarily as an outfielder. We know his former college coach thinks he can handle it. We know McNeil thinks he can handle it. And now we know another player it will impact.
Mets manager Mickey Callaway said Thursday that McNeil will probably be in left field most of the time, with the team wanting him to get comfortable "with all those angles."
And when asked if McNeil would play every day against right-handed starting pitchers and whether that means Brandon Nimmo in center field and Michael Conforto in right field on the days McNeil starts, Callaway answered in the affirmative.
"That would be correct," he said. "That's what's penciled in at this moment."
Conforto has played primarily in left field since debuting with the Mets in 2015, appearing in 259 games there. But has also gotten time in center field (107 games). He's also gotten a decent taste (33) in right field, so the transition shouldn't be too difficult.
When it comes to his defensive prowess out there, Conforto has been worth 3 DRS (defensive runs saved) there in what is so far a small sample size. He has been worth 10 DRS in left and -11 DRS in center.
With McNeil in left, Nimmo in center (where he may be a bit below average, but profiles better there than Conforto), and Conforto in right, the Mets appear to be putting each player in the best position to succeed.
When SNY spoke with McNeil's former college coach, Troy Buckley, in January about the outfield transition, he was confident about McNeil's ability to handle it. His comments did suggest, though, that McNeil (who doesn't have a big arm) might be best-suited for left field.
Calling an outfielder with a big arm something that can be an "eye candy tool," Buckley talked up McNeil's instincts and overall ability, saying he has "the ability to cover the grass, understand situational baseball, and then get the ball to the direct base -- get the ball to the direct people. And I think Jeff will handle that very well, even if his arm doesn't measure up to a true outfield arm or a right field arm or anything like that."
It's not yet clear if McNeil will also play against left-handers, or if the Mets will go with Juan Lagares or Keon Broxton there -- two tremendous defensive players who hit right-handed.
But if the Mets use McNeil against lefties, the early returns from 2018 suggest he should be able to handle it.
While hitting .329/.381/.471 overall as a rookie in 63 games, McNeil was impressive against lefties -- hitting .281/.339/.474 in 62 plate appearances against them.