Jeff McNeil was selected by the New York Mets in the 12th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Long Beach State University. Jeff made his pro debut that year with the Kingsport Mets in the Appalachian League in rookie ball, playing in 47 games and hitting an impressive .329 with a .413 OBP with 11 stolen bases.
In 2015, Jeff played with the St Lucie Mets in the Florida State League. I was able to watch Jeff play in person during this season and fell in love with his style of play. What I saw was an aggressive attacking hitter, willing to do anything to get on-base. I saw Jeff draw walks, bunt for hits and make solid contact to get on base, and then cause havoc on the bases with his aggressiveness.
Defensively, he showed an ability to play an average to above average second and third base, while also logging time at shortstop as well. He even played two games at first base and one in center field.
I was really looking forward to seeing Jeff move on to the Double-A after his 2015 season in which he led the Florida State League in on-base percentage and runs scored, finished second in batting and third in hits.
However, it was right at the start of the 2016 season when McNeil seemed to quickly disappear off the radar and missed most of the season, playing in only three games.
Reports began to trickle out about the injuries which led to the shutdown. Jeff ended up needing surgery for two sports hernias and later hip surgery that ended his 2016 season.
I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview Jeff about the injuries, rehab and current fight back to return to doing what he loves, play baseball for our New York Mets. At the time of this interview, Jeff was already in Port St Lucie preparing himself for the new year.
MMN – Jeff, first of all, thank you so much for the interview today. Tell me, how long have you been in Lucie? What kind of training and rehab are you doing?
Jeff – I got down here on February 6th to get out of the cold weather. So far I am taking batting practice and throwing. I started running last week so I am progressing nicely.
MMN – Can you please tell me the specific injuries you are coming off of and when they happened, surgery date etc.?
Jeff – I had a double sports hernia in may 2015 and during my MRI they saw a tear in my hip labrum that may have been the cause of the hernias. The plan was to correct the hernias, play out the year and get surgery on the hip at the end of the year but my rehab wasn’t going as planned so it was best to get the hip done and be ready for this year.
MMN – Can you please tell me about some of the physical training regime you’ve been going through to get back in game shape?
Jeff – I’ve been able to do a lot of upper body lifting in the offseason and then lots of rehab exercises. I did do my first lower body exercise earlier this week so hopefully I can get back to where I was last year with my strength.
MMN – What do you most look forward to be doing again with the Mets organization?
Jeff – I am looking forward to getting back on the field and competing. Last year was a tough year for me so hopefully a big year this season can make up for the lost year I had.
MMN – You’ve been known to be a very versatile player defensively. Do you have any preference in regards to a position? What position/positions would you like to play this upcoming season?
Jeff – I’ll play just about anywhere on the field and will feel comfortable. I think second and third base are my best and that’s what I think I will play a lot of this year.
MMN – You’ve always been very aggressive at the plate, bunting, hitting to all fields, and being aggressive on the bases. Are you still looking to add power to your game, as I believe was your plan going into 2016?
Jeff – Last off season I put on 35 pounds and was looking to drive the ball more. It paid off in my first game when I hit one of the furthest balls I ever have. It was frustrating to get hurt and miss out on the rest of the season. This season I am still the same weight but looking to get a stronger lower body which should keep me healthy for the year.
MMN – Do you have a timetable set for when you will be game ready? What is your goal for when you play your first game. Will you possibly be returning to Binghamton AA level or are there any plans to stay back in Lucie to start the minor league season?
Jeff – Without any set backs I hope to be ready for the season. I have not heard anything yet about where I will start the year.
MMN – You played some games at shortstop as well with the Mets. Can you envision yourself successfully playing SS, 2B and 3B as you progress further in the Mets system?
Jeff – I feel comfortable at all those positions and have played them all coming up through the system. Also in college I was mostly a left and center fielder so I feel very comfortable out in the outfield as well.
MMN – Prior to the injury you had reached AA level. What’s it like to progress through the farm system and start inching so close to that major league level?
Jeff – It’s awesome to get closer and closer and you realize how close you are when guys you’ve played with throughout my time in the system are getting called up to the big leagues.
MMN – Are there any specific players or coaches who have really helped you the most along the way up to this point?
Jeff – I would definitely say Luis Rojas has helped me a lot. He’s been my manager twice and will be up in Binghamton this year so I could have him as a manager for a third time this year.
MMN – What can the Mets and their fans expect from Jeff McNeil in 2017?
Jeff – Hopefully a huge year and a call up to the big leagues which is the ultimate goal.
MMN – Thank you so much for doing this interview Jeff.
Jeff – No problem anytime!
Both photos courtesy of Jeff McNeil