Before the season started, Juan Lagares looked to be the fourth/platoon outfielder in a good outfield. Michael Conforto was to play left field against righties, Yoenis Cespedes was to play center field against righties, and Curtis Granderson was to play right field all the time. Juan Lagares was to see time in center field against lefties, with Cespedes shifting over to replace Conforto in left field. It was simple, and easy.
But the New York Mets best-laid plans went awry.
Conforto struggled mightily after a hot start, and got demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas. Lagares hurt his thumb, and had to spend time on the disabled list. Both of these saw the Mets number four prospect, former first-round pick Brandon Nimmo get promoted.
Despite Lagares’ trip to the DL, he has been a good player in 2016; much better than his 2015 campaign. In 2016 he is slashing .269/.315/.437 with 3 home runs and a 105 wRC+ in 60 games. He has done this while only committing one error this season; he is playing defense in the vein of his 2014 Gold Glove season. His offense is vastly improved over his 2015 season where he slashed a paltry .259/.289/.358 with 5 home runs and an 80 wRC+ in 143 games; he has vastly improved offensively.
He had an excellent series against the Philadelphia Phillies this past weekend, hitting .333 with a double, a triple, and a home run in the three game series. He did so while replacing Yoenis Cespedes and his funky quadriceps injury in center field.
Lagares’ improved play in 2016 could not come at a better time for him or the Mets. Cespedes, due to his quad, prefers to play his natural left field the rest of the season. With Conforto getting the call back up to the majors, and Nimmo being sent down, Lagares is now the only center fielder on the roster, assuming Cespedes gets his wish of staying in left field. Granderson, now at 35 years of age, would not play well with the wide open spaces of center field, and Michael Conforto simply does not have the range to play out there. Alejandro De Aza is not a good defensive center fielder, and he has been so bad offensively this year, his bat is too much of a liability anyway.
Juan Lagares has an opportunity right on his doorstep; due to the unforeseen circumstances of injury and poor play, Lagares has a chance to be the everyday center fielder again. If his offense continues to show that 2015 was a fluke (or he struggled because of his arm injuries), he can absolutely stick as an everyday player again, which was hard to see coming into the season.