Friday, August 19, 2011

Meet The Met: Juan Lagares

I have been waiting for weeks to write about Lagares, thinking his play would cool off. After a month of outstanding baseball and no slump in sight, I could not wait any longer.

Before this season, Lagares was known as a top prospect that never fulfilled his potential. Back in 2006, the Mets signed him as a 17 year old short stop from the Dominican Republic, thinking they found Jose Reyes a double play partner for the next ten years.

That player never showed up; until this season.

Lagares debuted as a 17 year old in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .255 in 57 games. Nothing special, but since he was so young, not much was to be expected because surely he would get better each year.

He didn’t.

Nobody could have expected or wanted him to spend the next four years in low A-Ball Savannah as that would seem to represent a failure in his development, but that is what happened. After four straight years in low A, Lagares was a forgotten man. However, if you take a closer look at his year-to-year stats, he WAS developing, just at a painfully slow pace.

Take a look at his numbers development in the SAL:


While his improvement across the board, especially his 2010 numbers, look very good, his peripherals over that same time period were quite the opposite. Over those four seasons, he struck out 178 times and only walked 39 times; good for a K-rate of 19.3%! Not only is that a terrible ratio for any power hitter, where the extra bases cover it up a little, but for a player who only hit nine home runs in those 920 at-bats, the ratio stands out even more.

So even though his average and slugging percentage in 2010 were nice, those outside numbers showed a player may not be ready for higher levels. It was easy to see why, after his promotion to high A-Ball, against more advanced pitching, Lagares struggled. In his first 133 at bats, Juan hit .233, with a .248 OBP and a .316 SLG, striking out 18 times with only two walks.

A 21 year old struggling out of the gate is not abnormal in the Florida State League, but it will not help you get noticed, at least not in a good way. By your fifth season in A ball, if you aren’t dominating the league, many scouts and front office may not even consider you as a player destined for AA, forget the major leagues.

That is why his 2011 season was so surprising. Lagares played four consecutive seasons in Low A-Ball! He couldn’t touch high A-Ball in his brief time there. He has taken his expectations for the 2011 season and blown them out of the water.

His career batting average in the minor leagues coming into this season was .254, split between low A-Ball and high A. This season, he is hitting .353, in more advanced leagues of high A and AA. He has 24 walks this season; he had 25 walks in his last three seasons COMBINED. The outrageous numbers continue, and they only get better when you look at his stats after his promotion to AA.

Lagares has accumulated 95 at-bats in AA, and decided hitting .339 in High-A was not good enough. Juan is hitting .400 in Binghamton, with a .589 SLG, and has firmly placed himself on the map as a legitimate Mets prospect.

Another thing to like about Lagares, is that he is still young. My prospect crush Reese Havens (who found himself on Baseball America’s prospect hot sheet) is turning 25 in October. Lagares turned 22 in March. He is still developing into his body, and as such, has more room to grow and further enhance his game.

I am not saying he is the top outfield prospect in the Mets organization. I am not even sure he is a top ten prospect.

What I am saying, is that when Lagares signed way back in 2006, he was billed as a top prospect with the talent to play in the Major Leagues someday. Before this season, that vision was more like a dream. After this season, that vision may come to fruition someday soon.

Zach is also the author of Follow him on Twitter @zpetersel

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