Have you ever gone to a store expecting to find something you needed, only to learn they were out of stock, but were going to restock a week later? Then, a week later, they’re out of stock again when you return. This may happen several times until the one day that you finally get your hands on whatever it is you may have needed. Well, that’s Jeff McNeil as a player.
Having missed significant amounts of time over the last couple of years with several injuries has limited how we could profile McNeil’s development.
In 2016, those included a double sports hernia and a hip labrum tear, which limited him to just three games. In 2017, it was a groin injury, which limited him to just 48 games. Now 26-years old, and a bit old for his league, McNeil is trying to put everything together and work his way through the organization.
McNeil has a good amount of athleticism to combine with an average to slightly above average arm, and solid movement on the field. While he profiles best as a second baseman, he can also play a solid third, and has played short in the past. He also has limited time in both outfield spots.
Additionally, McNeil’s offensive profile was of the high contact/low power variety, with a very aggressive approach at the plate. Despite not walking at a very high rate, McNeil has always held solid on-base numbers, and strikeout rates in the mid to low teens.
What has changed over the last couple of seasons is the power in McNeil’s bat. A career-best three home runs, .152 ISO, and a 9.7 percent HR/FB rate, over 30 games in 2017 in St. Lucie showed that he could swing the bat with more authority. Perhaps he should have been in Binghamton last year, but was blocked by similar players in Luis Guillorme, L.J. Mazzilli, and others.
The 2018 season has been even more impressive on that front. In just 20 games, McNeil has already doubled his career high in home runs (six), and is hitting .281/.373/.607 with a .433 wOBA, and 173 wRC+.
The biggest change in his profile, aside from the massive power he’s discovered is his ability to take a pitch. His 9.8 percent walk rate is his highest since putting up a 9.1 percent walk rate in St. Lucie back in 2014, and have averaged around 6 percent in other years.
All of this is certain a product of McNeil lifting the ball more often, as evidenced by his 53.2 percent fly ball rate and 18.2 percent HR/FB rate, almost doubling his rate from a year ago. What’s also rather perplexing is that he’s doing all of this with a .268 BABIP, which would be his lowest mark to this point in any season.
While these rates are probably unsustainable, it does go to show that McNeil has met his challenge in Binghamton with an advanced approach for the level, and could soon work his way up in the organization, especially as other players shift north to Flushing.
It’s pretty rare to see utility guys that are solid defenders, above average speed and pop at the same time.