Jeff McNeil had quite the 2019 season for the Mets and, more importantly, for fantasy baseball owners. Never a major prospect in the Mets system, McNeil quietly joined the big club in 2018 and then blew up in 2019. Now, he is a major fantasy baseball draft riser in 2020 drafts, and there are a lot of questions involving where all the production came from for McNeil.
Jeff McNeil came into the 2019 season as a late-round flyer, going around pick 292 in NFBC drafts in March. He was coming off a 2018 season where he was a pure average hitter, hitting .329 in 63 games with the Mets. There was not a lot else in his stat package with only three home runs, 35 runs, 19 RBI and seven stolen bases. Outside of an excellent batting average, the other bit of intrigue was the fact he offers multi-position eligibility at 2B, 3B, and OF.
Fantasy owners that took McNeil late in drafts were well-rewarded in 2019. McNeil continued the high average, hitting .318, but surprised many in the power department. McNeil hit 23 home runs while scoring 83 runs, with 75 RBI and five steals. The increase in power was very impressive for the Mets’ top-of-the-order bat. In his seven seasons in the minors, McNeil only hit a total of 28 home runs. So, the 23 home runs in 2019 were a massive surprise. Heading into 2020, McNeil is now being drafted around pick 86, and he will have to keep showing that improved power to be worth that draft price.Editor's Note: Love the strategy of season-long fantasy sports? Live for the short term gratification of DFS? Try Weekly Fantasy Sports on OwnersBox - a new weekly DFS platform. Sign up today for a FREE $50 Deposit Match. Offer expires Thursday night! Sign Up Now!
A New Approach at the Plate Resulted in Increased Power
McNeil has always been a great contact player with a high average. In previous seasons, we saw McNeil take more first pitches and limit his chase rates. In 2019, McNeil changed that as he swung at 6.2% more first pitches, as well as increasing his chase rate by 5.1%. His chase contact decreased by 5.4%, and his overall swing rate rose by 3.9%. All of this resulted in an increase in McNeil’s strikeout rate to 13.2% from 9.7%, but attacking early pitches can also result in more power.
When looking for increased power, there is obviously more than just attacking pitches early in the count. His barrel rate also increased from 2.4% to 4.8%, and his hard-hit rate jumped from 28.9% to 36.6%. The increase in barrels and hard-hit rate also led to an amazing increase in his ISO from .142 to .214. That is just a crazy increase for a known batting average-only hitter with little power.
All these increases are great, but there are still some questions of how did McNeil’s home run totals improve from three to 23. The biggest take away from diving into his “new approach” at the plate is his pull rate. We have learned that pulled barrels results in many more home runs and McNeil improved his pull rate a lot in 2019. He improved his pull rate by a crazy 12%!!!! He also decreased his opposite-field rate by 6.8% and lowered his overall weak contact by 2.9%. His overall contact rates did not change a ton, but his quality of contact and a new approach at the plate resulted in so much more power.
Expectations for the 2020 Season
Most of McNeil’s power came in the second half of the season where he hit 16 of his 23 home runs. During that stretch, he only hit .276. His BABIP also decreased to .266 from .385 in the first half, while his K% rose to 14.9% and his ISO rose to .285. He only played 57 games in the second half due to his second stint on the injured list with a hamstring injury and then missed the last few games of the season after a hit by a pitch on his wrist. So, we have to ask ourselves whether McNeil will sacrifice some of his elite batting average skills for more power.
McNeil will still be eligible at 2B, 3B, and OF. Projections have him hitting slightly below .300, but still reaching 20 home runs. If the hamstring injuries stay away, we may see some slight speed as well, maybe close to 10 steals. He is currently being drafted around pick 86 overall, which is quite the asking price compared to the previous season. If drafting McNeil, he should be taken as a 2B or MI as you can find much more power at the third base and outfield positions at those points in the draft. He should be in for another nice season hitting atop the Mets lineup, but there will still be many questions on whether or not he can repeat his insane increase in power last season.
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