Last year, Jeff McNeil followed up his breakout 2018 season with an even better 2019 season, boosting his wRC+ from 137 to 143 and tapping into much more power as he developed his offensive game into a more complete profile. This year, with usual health caveats aside, there’s no reason McNeil shouldn’t continue his remarkably consistent offensive performance for another year.
A 60-game season could actually boost McNeil’s numbers, as we’ve seen him rock batting averages in the mid-.300s for months at a time. Last year, in his first 60 games of the season, McNeil sported an incredible .341/.407/.491 line, and many will remember that McNeil was competing for a batting title well into the second half. In 2018, McNeil played in only 63 games at the MLB level, and hit .329/.381/.471. It’s impossible to know what the batting race will look like in this abbreviated season, but McNeil’s ability to hit for high averages in spurts gives him as good of a chance as anyone to compete for the NL batting title.
Of course, that ignores the changes that McNeil made to his game in the second half of 2019, sacrificing batting average for power, but still rendering himself an equally valuable hitter in the process. In his final 60 games of 2019, McNeil hit .280/.352/.556, which is a line you’d expect more from someone like Michael Conforto than McNeil, but his 138 wRC+ in that span goes to show that he is good enough to be any kind of hitter that he wants to be, and will still be really good.
Based on what we saw in spring training back in March and reports from summer camp, it looks like the power has stuck around. If McNeil could ever combine the power and the batting average, he could make himself an MVP candidate. Regardless, what he already is now is incredibly valuable, and whether he focuses more on average or power, the Mets’ offense is relying on him to be a catalyst at the top.
Defensively, McNeil figures to slot in at third base to start the year, though we all know his versatility can take him almost anywhere on the diamond by season’s end. The 28-year-old can reliably play third, second, right field, or left field, and it’s not impossible that he could fake it in center field if things get dire, either.
Accounting for that versatility, McNeil may be the most valuable position player the Mets have. With the season being so short, and with the NL East looking like it’ll be bunched up between the top four teams, the difference between first and fourth place for the Mets this year could come down to individual performances, and McNeil is as important as anyone to the Mets in 2020.