Through his first five seasons with the Mets, Juan Lagares’s career has been filled with many ups and downs. When he first came up to the big leagues in 2013, he was one of the best defensive center fielders in the game—if not the best. That culminated in a Gold Glove award in 2014. It seemed as if the sky was the limit for him if he could develop as a hitter, but since that Gold Glove season, Lagares has not been the same player. He has gone down with injuries, seen his defense regress slightly, and hasn’t really developed at the plate.
Last year, Lagares was limited to just 94 games and hit .250/.296/.365 with a 75 OPS+. Defensively, he was much improved from the previous two seasons two seasons, posting a 1.7 dWAR and 15 Defensive Runs Saved in 566.2 innings roaming the outfield.
This past offseason, Lagares adjusted his swing in hopes of improving at the plate. Working with hitting consultant Craig Wallenbrock, he added a loft to his swing in hopes of driving the ball more. This new and improved swing could pay dividends for both Lagares and the Mets. With Michael Conforto likely to begin the year on the disabled list, Lagares figures to get the majority of playing time in center field.
In 2018, Lagares is predicted to hit similarly to his 2017 numbers. PECOTA is projecting .254/.297/.364 in 284 plate appearances, while Steamer projects .256/.299/.380 with an 81 wRC+. It will be interesting to see if his efforts have a dramatic impact on those numbers.
Mets fans can hope that a redesigned swing can give Lagares the boost he needs to make himself more of an everyday player. A big season from him would be a huge boost to the Mets, especially given their thin outfield depth. If he can begin to swing the bat well, Lagares will fill in for Conforto nicely in center field and be a reliable fourth outfielder.