The Mets still have questions at a few positions, but the outfield is not one of them. The original plan this offseason was to have Jeff McNeil move to left field after Jed Lowrie was signed to a two-year deal, but even with injuries to both Lowrie and Todd Frazier, the outfield is still well-manned.
Leading the way to start the season are Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto. Nimmo is expected to slot into the leadoff spot and man left field until others return from their injuries. If McNeil does eventually make his way to the outfield, Nimmo will most likely move to center, which defensively isn’t ideal, but offensively would give the Mets a potentially potent lineup. Last season, Nimmo was briefly sent down to Triple-A early in the season, but there is no doubt he belongs on the roster now. With his ability to get on base, Nimmo figures to be a key piece to the Mets’ success this season.
Conforto, who figures to be in right field on a daily basis, completely turned his season around in the second half last year, and his power has been on full display this spring, Now fully healthy, he seems poised for a big year. In some way-too-early predictions, Conforto is seen as a potential MVP candidate, which would definitely go a long way in helping the Mets’ playoff aspirations this season.
With the corners manned by two young cornerstones of the team, center is a little more cloudy. The position still seems like Juan Lagares’s to lose despite him struggling all spring. Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that his defense has also taken a hit. His arm, which has been a strength of his in the past. has not looked the same.
The issue in recent years was the Mets’ depth was almost non-existent in the outfield. This was never more obvious than last season when they picked up both Jose Bautista and Austin Jackson to fill holes. That is not the case this year, as Keon Broxton was brought in by GM Brodie Van Wagenen and offers a very similar skillset to Lagares’s. Unlike Lagares, Broxton hit well in spring training. He’s also two years younger than Lagares and has a bit more pop. In almost 1,000 fewer at-bats at the major league level, he has thirteen more home runs than Lagares. To be fair to Lagares, he did pick it up last year once the season started, but the Mets should give serious consideration to starting Broxton at the beginning of the year.
With both Lagares and Broxton being right-handed bats, they are a good complement to the two lefties in the corners. But that situation will most likely be temporary. Despite being another lefty, if McNeil hits, he will stay in the lineup once the infield becomes healthy. The two true center fielders will have to settle for a platoon role for when there is a lefty on the mound or when the others need a day off.
The wild card here is Yoenis Cespedes. After undergoing surgery on both heels, the timeline for his return was eight-to-ten months which would put his return sometime in the late summer. Offense has never been Cespedes’s problem, and it will be interesting how Mickey Callaway balances the playing time if and when La Potencia makes his return.
Finally, will this be the year Tim Tebow makes his way to Queens? He seemed to have a shot at it last season, but an injury prevented that from happening. He should not see action until September as a call-up, and if the Mets are in a tight playoff race it might be hard to find him at-bats. Even so, chances are if he holds his own in Syracuse, the former quarterback could find himself at Citi Field this year.
Overall, the Mets have depth and options in the outfield that should serve them well this year. If Conforto and Nimmo reach their full potential and stay healthy, the outfield will remain a strength all season.