Today, the Mets called up Juan Lagares to replace Kirk Niuewenhuis in the outfield mix. Lagares is a versatile defender who can capably man all three spots with the range for center, and the arm for right. A former infielder, he was slowed by injuries (back and hand) early in his minor league career, but put it togetehr in a big way in Savannah in 2010 as a 21-year old.
That defensive versatility combined with a real, consistent ability to hit left-handers makes Lagares a good fit for the current Mets roster and a potential part of a platoon either in center or in right (whenever the team tires of Marlon Byrd). In 2012, Lagares hit .331/.379/.474 in 133 AB vs. LHP in AA. That came on the heels of a .321/.333/.472 line in 53 AB vs. southpaws at the same level in 2011. This was was more of the same ahs he was 7-for-24 vs. AAA LHP with two doubles and two homers for a .625 slugging percentage. On this Mets team, Lagares should play regularly against left-handed pitching.
Lagares, when he’s right is short and direct to the ball. He’s makes good barrel contact, but he’s a heavy top-hand hitter who generates more topspin than backspin which cuts down on the ball’s carry and thus his power numbers. In the upper minors, before Las Vegas, he had never run an isolated slugging percentage above .150.
Lagares is a very aggressive hitter. The Mets have worked hard with him on his approach in the last few years, but it remains a work in progress. In a-ball, while hitting .300/.318/.459 over 67 games for Savannah in 2010, he walked in 2.3% of his plate appearances. That went down (!) to 1.5% when he was promoted to St. Lucie later that summer where he hit .233/.248/.316 in 33 games. After bumping that up to 6.4% in 2011 in the FSL when his production rose to .338/.380/.494 in 82 games, he kept right on hitting in AA (.370/.391/.512 in 28 games but did not walk – 2.9%). In 2012, he spent the whole year at AA, and his walk rate rebounded to 6.8%, but his power numbers declined (a .106 isolated slugging percentage) for a .283/.334/.389 overall line.
In 17 games with Las Vegas this year, he was hitting .346/.378/.551 – the first time he has had an isolated slugging percentage above .205, so thank you PCL. And of course, as it has every time he has moved up, his walk rate dipped, but this time less severely – only to 4.9%.
It is extremely fitting that Lagares will be wearing #12, Scott Hairston’s old number, as like Hairston, he can hit lefties and be an asset defensively. However, compared to Hairston, at this point in their careers, Lagares might be a better defender with less power.
Mets’ Hitting Coach, Dave Hudgens will have his work cut out to make the 24-year-old Lagares a complete hitter who is patient enough to play everyday. Even if that effort is unsuccessful, Lagares’ defensive ability and prowess against LHP will make him valuable to this Mets team.