When it was revealed Michael Conforto would not be ready for Opening Day, center field became a position to watch when spring training began. The two main contenders for the position are Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo, and so far it seems like it should be Nimmo’s job to lose.
This offseason, both players’ names popped up in the news for different reasons. Lagares spent the offseason working on his swing hoping to capitalize on the new launch angle metric, whereas Nimmo’s name came up during the Andrew McCutchen trade rumors. The trade did not happen, and for his part, he viewed the trade rumors in a positive light.
When spring training began, Lagares got off to a bit of a late start because he had to deal with a minor leg injury. Nimmo, however, was ready when Grapefruit League action started, and he hit the ground running.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson perhaps made an unnecessary joke at Nimmo’s expense this winter when explaining why the team did not pursue Giancarlo Stanton. Obviously Nimmo isn’t Stanton, but so far, he has been pretty impressive this spring. Batting mostly out of the leadoff position, he is hitting .345/.429/.759 with two home runs and has really been driving the ball in 29 at-bats. Last season, his eye at the plate and several advanced stats all pointed to a promising, productive young player, and he has done nothing this spring to make those numbers look like an aberration. Perhaps most importantly, Nimmo is currently leading the battle for the title of Amazin’ Avenue KoST.
Lagares, on the other hand, has done little to show off the new swing. He is batting just .200/.294/.267 with no home runs, six strikeouts, and only one extra-base hit in 15 at-bats. Allison McCague wrote an amazing analysis on what the fly ball revolution means for both Kevin Plawecki and Juan Lagares, and she was concerned that it would not be a good fit for Lagares. It is still only spring, and he has plenty of time to turn it around, but so far the adjustments don’t seem to be paying off for him.
Lagares is still an elite defender and edges Nimmo out in that regard, so a platoon could work at the start of the season—with Lagares as a defensive replacement in the late innings. That might not last for long, since by all accounts Michael Conforto has been progressing well in his return from shoulder surgery. When he makes his return, this position battle could end up spilling over and affecting other areas on the field.
If spring performances continue into the season, first base could become a peroblem very quickly. Dominic Smith and Adrian Gonzalez have done nothing to alleviate any concerns about that position thus far, with Gonzalez not producing in spring games and Smith sidelined by a leg injury of his own. Should this still be the case in the future, Jay Bruce could platoon first base with Wilmer Flores, and Yoenis Cespedes, Conforto, and Nimmo would make up the outfield, with Lagares serving as a fourth outfielder. Defensively, this alignment is not ideal, but this is the bed the Mets made when they signed Adrian Gonzalez, a 35-year-old with back problems.
Offensively, Nimmo makes the team better, and defensively Lagares makes the team better. But the Mets in recent years have not held defense high on their priority list, which should give Nimmo an edge from the team’s perspective, as well, come Opening Day.