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The 10 best Mets minor league hitters I saw this year: 2, Jeff McNeil

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Counting down the best minor league hitters I saw in 2018.

Jeff McNeil
Steve Sypa

Disclaimer: This is a ranking of the best players that I saw during the 2018 season. I saw a wide cross-section of teams in 2018, seeing the Kingsport Mets, Brooklyn Cyclones, Columbia Fireflies, and Binghamton Rumble Ponies, but I did not see the GCL Mets, St. Lucie Mets, or Las Vegas 51s, nor did I attend every single game of the teams that I did see. As such, this is not a comprehensive Mets prospect list. If a player is not on the list, I either did not see him, or considered the listed ten players better.

Name: Jeff McNeil

Team: Binghamton Rumble Ponies

Position: 2B

Born: 4/08/92 (26)

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 195 lbs.

Bats/Throws: L/R

Acquired: 2013 Draft, Round 12 (Cal State Long Beach)

2018 Season: 88 G, 339 AB, .342/.411/.617, 116 H, 26 2B, 5 3B, 19 HR, 36 BB, 42 K, 6/6 SB, .345 BABIP (Double-A/Triple-A)

Date(s) Seen: June 9 @ Trenton (0-3), June 10 @ Trenton (3-5, 2R, 2B)

The Man

Drafted by the Mets in the 12th round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Cal State Long Beach, Jeff McNeil developed into a solid, but somewhat one-dimensional, hitter. As a 21-year-old with the Kingsport Mets in 2013, he hit .329/.413/.409 in 47 games. In 2014, a year he split with the Savannah Sand Gnats and St. Lucie Mets, he hit .292/.367/.394 in 117 games. In 2015, a year he split with the St. Lucie Mets and Binghamton Mets, he hit .308/.369/.377 in 123 games. The golfer-turned-baseball player could hit, but driving the ball wasn’t exactly his specialty. Then, in 2016, he reported to camp roughly 20 pounds heavier. He looked much stronger, especially in his upper body, and the ball hopped off his bat in batting practice with a loud crack. Assigned to Binghamton, he hit a home run in his very first game of the year, but missed virtually the entire the season due to a double sports hernia and hip labrum tear. Jeff McNeil got on the field a bit more in 2017, but once again missed a considerable amount of time to injury, this time an apparent groin injury sustained after hitting a home run.

Amazin Avenue ranked McNeil the Mets 21st top prospect this past winter, but nobody could have predicted the season he would have in 2018. Fully healthy, McNeil got off to a blistering start of the season, hitting for average and power. In 57 games with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, he hit .327/.402/.626, slugging a career-high 14 home runs. Promoted to the Las Vegas 51s over the summer, he hit .368/.427/.600 in 31 games. In late July, he received his first major league call-up and made quite the impression, forcing his way into a starting role with the team after hitting .329/.381/.471 in 61 games, setting a few records for Mets rookie hitters.

The Hitter

Jeff McNeil is another “launch angle success story.” Earlier in his career, he hit a lot more ground balls. In 2015, the last time he was healthy enough to play a full season, he had a 22.1% line drive rate, 41.5% ground ball rate, 36.4% fly ball rate, and 0.7% home-run-to-fly-ball rate. In 2018, with the Rumble Ponies, he posted a 19.8% line drive rate, 30.5% ground ball rate, 49.7 fly ball rate, 12.9% infield fly ball rate, and a 15.1% home run to fly ball rate. With the Las Vegas 51s, he had a 17.0% line drive rate, 50.0 % ground ball rate, 33.0 % fly ball rate, and a 14.3 % home-run-to-fly-ball rate. With the Mets, he had a 21.6% line drive rate, 38.7% ground ball rate, 39.7% fly ball rate, and 3.8% home-run-to-fly-ball rate. Thanks to swing changes and launch angle increases, he is hitting far fewer ground balls and is instead hitting them into the air. Thanks to the strength increases and modified swing, more of the fly balls that he is hitting are being hit out of the park for home runs. With his improved ability at the plate, pitchers have been more cautious around him, allowing McNeil to draw more walks. Looking at defense, he profiles best at second base, but thanks to a solid-average arm and excellent all-around athleticism, he can also play third base and shortstop in short stints.

Looking To 2019

McNeil demonstrated that his hot start to the season was no fluke, hitting for average and power throughout his entire minor league season. He did not miss a beat when he was promoted to the Mets. McNeil should make the 2019 Mets roster, preferably as the starting second baseman.

The Countdown

3. Mark Vientos

4. Jarred Kelenic

5. Shervyen Newton

6. Luis Santana

7. Matt Winaker

8. Ross Adolph

9. Zach Rheams

10. Juan Uriarte