It has yet to be determined who will be the Mets everyday center fielder, with some Mets fans thinking free agent acquisition Chris Young will fill the role for the club in 2014, but I think, and hope, the role will be filled by Juan Lagares.
Lagares played 121 games for the Mets last season, mostly in center field, and when he in the field there was no way not to be impressed with his ability. He was a pleasure to watch play the outfield, making sensational plays nearly every single game, but maybe more impressive was his ability to run down fly balls hit into the gaps and make it look easy. By watching him play you knew he was a tremendous defensive talent, and his defensive sabermetric numbers bear it out as well. The 24 year old native of the Dominican Republic ranked 5th in the National League in defensive WAR last season at 3.5, lead all National League CF’s in outfield assists with 14, and had the best Range Factor per 9 innings played of all NL centerfielders at 2.98.
Simply put, there’s a real case to be made for Lagares being the best defensive outfielder in the National League, if not the entire Majors, but what remains to be seen is if he can hit well enough to stay in the starting lineup every day. Last year for the Mets he put up a stat line of .242 batting average, .281 OBP, 4 HR, 30XBH anda .352 SLG in 392 ABs. If he can raise his on base percentage up above .300 I don’t see any reason to keep him out of the lineup. He has limited power, but that doesn’t hurt as bad if he is playing center field, which is not a premium power position, but he can not post such a low OBP and expect to play every day with the improvements the Mets have made to their outfield since the end of last season.
Whether he plays every day or not Lagares will be a valuable late game defensive replacement and a solid bench player, so his position on the roster is secure. If it were up to me the starting center field job would be his lose this spring.