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Mets Minor League Players of the Week: Week Twelve

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What minor league players put up the best numbers this past week, June 24th to June 30th?

Jeff McNeil
Steve Sypa

Pitcher of the Week

Drew Gagnon

2018 Season: 17 G (17 GS), 96.1 IP, 87 H, 50 R, 48 ER (4.48 ERA), 27 BB, 99 K (Double-A/Triple-A)

Week: 2 G (2 GS), 14.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 15 K (Triple-A)

The Brewers drafted him a few years ago out of Cal State Long Beach in the third round of the 2011 MLB Draft and he slowly climbed up their system for a few years, making it as high as their Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. Milwaukee traded him to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for catcher Jett Bandy, but Gagnon didn’t exactly impress his new organization, posting a 6.25 ERA in 86.1 innings with the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. This past December, the right-hander signed with the Mets. After making a single start for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Gagnon has spent the rest of the 2018 pitching for the Las Vegas 51s, to mixed results.

Gagnon possesses an average fastball, sitting in the low-90s and topping out as high as 95 MPH, but none of his secondary pitches are better than average, which is why he pitches to mixed results so often and has yet to get an MLB shot despite having reached Triple-A in 2015. His most effective secondary pitch is his slider, and sometimes it flashes being an above-average pitch when he is able to tighten it up, but it is otherwise a fringe-average-to-average offering. His changeup is also a fringe-average-to-average offering, as is the curveball that he periodically mixes in. He is able to command his fastball and all of his secondary pitches, which is generally how he’s gotten to the doorstep of the major leagues, but because he does not have a bona fide plus pitch, he has seemingly topped out where he currently is.

In theory, a shift to the bullpen could give Gagnon a new life as a pitcher, as it would likely give him a small velocity boost and would allow him to focus on just throwing his slider and getting it tighter and more consistently above-average. While that certainly would be good for his career, the Mets already have a plethora of other internal options where the same could be true. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have already seemingly made the transition into the bullpen, and fellow Las Vegas rotation-mates Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, and the newly promoted Nabil Crismatt may also have to do the same in the future in order for their talents to help the major league club. As such, it seems unlikely that the Mets give Gagnon the shot that he needs.

Hitter of the Week

Jeff McNeil

2018 Season: 71 G, 272 AB, .342/.410/.621, 93 H, 22 2B, 3 3B, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 27 BB, 36 K, 5/5 SB

Week: 7 G, 31 AB, .387/.424/.645, 12 H, 2 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K, 1/1 SB (Triple-A)

McNeil was promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas on June 16 and in fourteen games is hitting .397/.438/.603 in 58 at-bats. He has gotten on base in all fourteen games, and in eleven of those fourteen games, he has gotten on base at least twice, either by drawing a walk and a hit, or logging multiple hits. He played a similar number of games for the 51s last season, getting promoted in mid-August and closing out the 2018 season there, and the difference in his numbers is very stark. In 17 games at Triple-A last season, McNeil hit .254/.295/.366 in 71 at-bats.

Delving into his performance that got him promoted to Las Vegas, McNeil hit .327/.402/.626 in 57 games with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. During that time, he posted a .316 BABIP. Many times, when minor league players break out and post high batting averages and on-base percentages, it is because they have a very high, sometimes unsustainable BABIP. Amed Rosario, for example, hit .328/.367/.466 in Las Vegas with a .377 BABIP last year and the year before hit .341/.392/.481 in Binghamton in 2016 with a .433 BABIP. Matt Reynolds hit .355/.430/.422 in Binghamton in 2014 with a .433 BABIP and then hit .333/.385/.479 in Las Vegas in 2015 with a .404 BABIP. Cesar Puello hit .326/.403/.547 in Binghamton with a .391 BABIP in 2013. Regression to the mean- and in some cases, health issues- happened, and none of these players have gone on to demonstrate that such high batting lines are possible without the help of a very high BABIP.

McNeil’s .316 BABIP is actually fairly low for the numbers he has been putting up. A 50-point boost in his BABIP would bring it up to .366, entering into that territory of high BABIPs that streaking players in the minors can sustain. A 50-point boost in his BABIP would represent an additional nine hits, which would hike his batting average up to a .354 and his on-base percentage up to a .424, in addition to whatever gains in his slugging percentage would occur if those extra hits were extra base hits.

In addition to his balls being put in play, the balls that McNeil is hitting out of play is worth highlighting as well. The biggest difference between the Jeff McNeil of today and the Jeff McNeil of 2015, the last time he was healthy enough to play a full season- is his fly ball rate and how many of those fly balls are being hit out of the park. In 2015, he had a 22.1% line drive rate, 41.5 ground ball rate, 36.4% fly ball rate, 20.9% infield 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. 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.