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The View From Behind the Backstop: Jeff McNeil

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All he's done during his short professional career is hit, but how good a prospect is Jeff McNeil?

Gordon Donovan

Jeff McNeil, 3B, Savannah Sand Gnats (A)
Height, weight: 6'1", 165 pounds
Age (2014 season age): 22
Acquired: 12th round, 2013
Date(s) seen: 4/26/14-4/27/14 @ Lakewood Blue Claws: 0-7, R, 2 BB, 2 K
2014 so far: 235 PA, .346/.408/.486, 29 K / 16 BB

The short of it

Lots of golf references ahoy, but McNeil is beginning to turn into a bit of a baseball prospect as well with a pretty left-handed swing and some defensive flexibility.

The long of it

McNeil is one of the few guys I've sat on who might actually be lighter than his listed weight. He's built like a golfer, which makes sense, since he was an outstanding high school golfer, and came to baseball fairly late. When I watched him in Kingsport, he looked liked your average older college guy beating up on the Appalachian League. He's still a little old for the South Atlantic League, but he won't be there much longer. He was a shortstop in college, and is a very good athlete with more than enough arm for third, good hands, and smooth actions. He played second base in Kingsport last summer, and could probably handle shortstop in the minors, at least for now.

The calling card here offensively is a very pretty swing from the left side. He's going to get Daniel Murphy comps due the fact that he pulls his top hand over and seems to naturally go to the opposite field. In batting practice, McNeil showed very good bat head control (which you would expect from a star amateur golfer), and a bit of pull side power as well. The swing is smooth and direct to the ball. I don't expect much home run pop, as he isn't going to generate much backspin with that swing plane, but he should hit for average. It almost looks like a golf swing with the way he extends his arms and rotates from his shoulders to his hips. McNeil pairs his raw bat-to-ball ability with a good approach at the plate, as you would expect from a recent Mets draftee. His main issue right now is bringing that BP swing into games consistently. The swing tends to break down against pitches down in the zone, especially breaking balls, and become mechanical. His lower body disappears from the swing,  he will start to lunge at balls, and he repeatedly rolled over against offspeed stuff. This should hopefully improve with more reps, but the bat is still a bit risky for a college draftee. That said, he also has more room for growth than your average late-round college pick, given his relative lack of baseball experience. McNeil is a good runner as well, but will need to add some weight to his frame; it's not a major league body right now. That might sap his speed and range a bit, but he is athletic enough that I don't expect it to radically affect his defensive profile.

The optimistic projection

McNeil hits .270 with some walks, plays a little bit here, a little bit there, some second, short, third, outfield, and can cover for a few weeks if a guy goes on the DL. Useful super-utility type.

The pessimistic projection

The swing never quite gets there in games, and better breaking stuff makes McNeil an upper-minors journeyman.

What to look for during the rest of the 2014 season

McNeil is probably bound for St. Lucie after the first half break, and for a player with his profile, how he handles each new level will be important. Another thing to keep an eye on: Do they move him into the shortstop mix at some point? He has better physical tools for the position than Evans, Flores, or Reynolds.