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Mets Prospect Mailbag: Is Juan Lagares a Center Fielder?

Technically this isn't a mailbag question, rather an interesting thread that popped up in last Monday's Winter League Update which I felt was worth highlighting here. Reader Myron Kondrake asked:

"[Juan] lagares - How realistic is it that he sticks in cf?"

Certainly an interesting question with the 22-year old Lagares suddenly on the forefront of the Mets prospect discussion after a stellar 2011 that saw him bat .349 with nine homers and 15 stolen bases between Hi-A and Double-A. Currently Lagares is starring in center for Peoria out in the Arizona Fall League, but as a Taxi Squad player that's only on a part-time basis. So the question remains, will he be able to handle center field full-time going forward? This was my response:

"He’ll certainly be able to handle it on occasion, but will he land there long term? Tough to say; he’s got the athleticism/speed, the question is whether or not he can figure it out from an instincts standpoint.

[Lagares] himself said he had a really hard time when he first made the shift from the infield in 2010; scouts agreed. Then in 2011, couple the fact that he was still recovering from an ankle injury that ended his 2010 with the fact that he played most of the season on a team alongside Matt den Dekker and you can understand why he played very few games in center this year.

However, he’s playing out there now in the AFL. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get the starting gig in [Triple-A] Buffalo next year if/when [Kirk] Nieuwenhuis gets the call. And again, I really like his athleticism, even as he’s adding some bulk along the way.

If I had to guess I’d say yes, especially since I don’t see him developing enough home run power to profile in either corner.

Whether the Mets have an opening who knows, but I kind of see a solid all-around player who isn’t quite a natural CF but whose value to the team jumps if they can find a way for him to play there, much like Jon Jay for the Cardinals. Problem for Lagares is that [Nieuwenhuis] profiles much in the same way so who the hell knows what’ll actually happen."

A bit of a cop-out answer yes, but I'd say that's about as good as you're going to get without outright guessing, that is until we see more reps from Lagares in center. He just hasn't done it all that much and with CF pretty much at the top of the defensive difficulty spectrum, we can't just assume he'll be able to do it especially not at the major league level.

As an added aside, Russ jumped into the discussion by asking:

"Do you think that the Mets will start giving him playing time in the IF again? - If he can play SS and 3B with fewer errors, as well as the OF positions, Lagares could be a valuable utility player."

My answer to that one is no, probably not. While his offensive skillset would look nice in the infield -- make that REALLY nice at short -- they've already made the switch and at this point they'll likely exhaust any chance he can stick in the OF before moving him back. There's obviously a lengthy learning curve between positions, especially between IF and OF, and it's really not fair to jerk him back and forth so soon.

Beyond that, as I pointed out though he's very athletic he's adding muscle as he matures so it's questionable at best that he could handle a move back to his old defensive home. Imagine Baltimore's Adam Jones moving back to his original spot at short...probably wouldn't be pretty.


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