Mets Prospect Highlight: Jeff McNeil | Astromets Mind

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mets Prospect Highlight: Jeff McNeil

Jeff McNeil is trying to be more than a prospect on the fringe

Jeff McNeil’s fast start has been overshadowed by the guy’s hitting before and after him in the PSL Mets lineup.

            With Michael Conforto crushing the ball, Amed Rosario, Marcos Molina and Jhoan Urena jumping A-ball to join the roster, and several other starting pitchers drawing a lot of attention (Robert Gsellman, Robert Whalen, Miller Diaz…), it’s easy to overlook Jeff McNeil on this talented St. Lucie roster, but his output from the 2-spot in the lineup has been hard to overlook lately. McNeil is riding a 7-game hitting streak, with multiple hits in 6 of those games, including all three of his 2015 extra base hits (2 2B, 1 3B), for a .467/.500/.600 slash line. He has a great approach at the plate, and a smooth, direct swing to the ball, so let’s take a quick look at McNeil and his hot start.
            McNeil has been the everyday second baseman for St. Lucie, only moving over to play SS for the one game Amed Rosario rested, which was his first game at SS in the minors. A SS in college, he is a good enough fielder to play anywhere on the infield – he’s mostly been at 2B/3B so far – with the physical tools to be used as a backup shortstop. He hasn’t played much SS so far in the minors because he’s been on teams with Gavin Cecchini, L.J. Mazzilli, Phillip Evans, and now Amed Rosario, who have all been given the chances over him. Considering he doesn’t profile as a starter at the highest level, I wonder if the Mets will give him some experience in LF at some point this year just to increase his versatility. Baseball-reference has him down for 2 games in CF, but it would appear that both appearances were made in ‘emergency’ situations.
             The Mets drafted McNeil in the 12th round of the 2013 draft and sent him to Kingsport, where he was too advanced for the level, hitting .329/.413/.409, with more walks than strikeouts, and 11 steals in 47 games. He’d start 2014 with Savannah, which was still not a problem for Jeff, as he’d slash .332/.401/.461, with 24 extra base hits (20 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR) and 15 stolen bases in just 59 games. Savannah would get great first half’s from McNeil, Cheech, and Maz 2014, and then all 3 ended up promoted to a crowded St. Lucie infield for the 2nd half. McNeil improved his K: BB ratio after his promotion, but his BABIP took a .100+ point dip, and both his extra base hit and stolen base rates fell off the cliff – 10 XBH (8 2B, 2 3B) and 2 SB in 58 games. He had hit his first bump in the minors, but would have all offseason to prepare for a second chance at the FSL. So far, while his slash line is much shinier, it would appear to mostly a BABIP thing. But in the minor leagues, a high BABIP isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you expect a hitter who is too good for a league to be hitting the ball hard, and hard hit balls fall in for hits more often (especially with the inferior defense in the minors). Thanks to MLBfarm, we can use spray charts to take a closer look at his improvements with St. Lucie from 2014 to 2015. First, let’s look at his spray chart with Savannah as an example of McNeil when he’s hot.

Figure 1 – Jeff McNeil’s spray chart with Savannah

            He hit the ball on the ground nearly half of the time, and used the whole field. While his only red spot is between 1B and 2B, nearly 60% of the balls he put in play went to the left side of the field or CF. For the season, McNeil showed almost no L/R splits – .762 OPS vs. RHP and a .757 OPS vs. LHP – but his approach was very different. Against lefties, McNeil was more of a line drive hitter, who hit 50+% of balls in play back up the middle. Against righties, McNeil was more of a fly ball hitter, and his pull rate increase.

Figure 2 – Jeff McNeil’s spray chart with St. Lucie from 2014

            When he reached St. Lucie, McNeil’s line drive rate plummeted, and his pull rate increased some. His approach and results against righties were similar to what he did with Savannah, but lefties suddenly owned him – he went 10-48 with two doubles against lefties with St. Lucie in 2014, for a .208/.283/.250 slash. Although I tend to question the minor league classifications of balls in play to an extent, his line drive rate against lefties dropped from 36% with Savannah to 4.6% with St. Lucie, which is too big of a drop to be ignored.

Figure 3 – Jeff McNeil’s spray chart with St. Lucie so far in 2015

            It’s early, but McNeil’s been lining the ball all over the diamond, with ~40% of balls in play going to 1B, 2B or RF, just like in his 2014 first half with Savannah. It’s only 16 PA against lefties, but he’s already hit more balls in play classified as line drives against southpaws this year (3) than he did in his 2014 second half with St. Lucie (2).

            Moving forward, I will be looking to see if McNeil starts hitting some more extra base hits, and starts trying to steal bases again. He’s not a big guy (listed at 6’1”, 165 pounds on baseball-reference), so I don’t expect big homerun power to come, but something like that doubles rate he had with Savannah plays. Also, after 31 stolen base attempts over his first 106 games between Kingsport and Savannah, McNeil only has 5 attempts in 75 games since joining St. Lucie. Still, so long as he keeps up his .300+ average and strong K: BB rates, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t finish the year with Binghamton.

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