Saturday, December 15, 2012

Juan Lagares Scouting Report

With Andres Torres signing with the Giants (for just 2 million dollars after being non-tendered), Kirk Nieuwenhuis playing basically like a replacement player in his first big league season, and AAA CF Matt Den Dekker posting a 75 OPS +, 86 wOBA + in 2012, center field is clearly a need for the Mets in 2012.
One has to look no further than the Mets' minor league depth in the upper levels at both CF and SS to see what the problems the organization is currently facing.

After Den Dekker, Juan Lagares is the next highest level centerfielder (at least, that could be called a prospect) that the Mets have. Lagares was signed out of the Dominican Republic and began in the organization in 2006. In 2007, he came stateside. In 2012, he spent the whole year in AA as a 23 year old and had a 101 OPS + and wOBA +. He was considerably better at home, even though the Mets' AA park had a 95 Park Factor for 2012 (102 Park Factor in 2011). When he was brought up to AA in 2011, and his 170 plate apperances were extremely BABIP driven. His BABIP in 2012 was a more reasonable .342, but still .035 higher than league average. This is especially strange considering his ground-ball percentage hovered around 50%. He didn't hit for much power (.107 ISO), but he did have a career high walk rate of 6.8%. Walks have always been his weakness statistically, as he has hovered around 1-4 % for a lot of his career, absolutely unacceptable. Predictably, the right-handed hitter is better against lefties, but he has been decent against righties and actually has a better walk rate against righties over the past two seasons.

Lagares stands slightly open at the plate, with a pretty noisy bat raised up high (about where you would teach a kid where to keep it). His actual swing is a little messy, as his hips work in a way that make him look like a slap hitter. It seems that he takes a large lunge before he swings, which most likely helps create this unbalance. He does have somewhat of an uppercut swing, which is probably why he occasionally hits for some power. However, it creates a lot of moving parts, which would seem to make his plate discipline wane and contact harder. Despite the low walk rates (and the mediocre at best K/BB that creates), his strikeout rates have been mostly reasonable. It is something to watch though.

Lagares played mostly center in 2012, but also 47 games in right-field as well in 2012. He was previously a shortstop, and batted ball data said he was good there as well (he made a lot of errors though, which may be why there was a positional change).Matt Den Dekker was ranked as the best defensive outfielder in the system by Baseball America on Friday. Den Dekker has only had negative FRAAs, and (while Lagares' sample size is only about half as much in center as Den Dekker) Lagares' Range Factor is much better. While the sample size is somewhat noisy obviously, Lagares would have been the top centerfielder in baseball according to Range Factor. Obviously Range Factor is crude and simple, but he has shown good speed on the bases, with 21 steals in 2012 and 25 steals in 2010 (6.3 speed score in 2012). I got him at 4.27-4.28, which is averagish for a right-handed hitter, but the video I saw of him may not have been him running all out.

There has been some concern that he fits better on a corner, which nearly destroys his value. It all depends on whether you trust what the scouts are evidently doing or the data. Whether the improved (but still not good) walk rate in AA was real has a lot to do with how I view Lageres' future Major League value. At age 23 in a league where the average hitter was 24.5, there is reason for optimism.

The Mets have been linked to the Blue Jays in R.A. Dickey rumors, and it appears that Anthony Gose might be in a possible package for him. I have never been a Gose fan, but he would provide more value in 2012 than I could see Lagares providing. He could provide future value, but the most likely scenario is obviously a 4th or 5th outfielder. If everything comes together though, he could be a starting centerfielder with in the next couple of years. 

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