The Mets have a center fielder with an OPS of 1.046 who plays elite defense.
But exactly how representative these 35 plate appearances are of Lagares’ talent at the moment, and more important, going forward is harder to discern.
The reasons for optimism are Lagares’ relative youth, at just 24, and that the defensive side of his performance seems to be a constant at this point.
But what to make of the offense? As a whole in his major league career now, Lagares has an OPS of .681, good for a 90 OPS+. So he’s been below league average overall, and it is a slugging-heavy OPS, if one can consider a .397 slugging percentage heavy.
Of greater concern: four walks in 157 plate appearances. It is hard to believe pitchers will challenge him much, now that video of his hitting a three-run homer on Sunday exists.
There’s no guarantee Lagares can’t adjust to this by taking some pitches. He really hasn’t, though, at any level. He’s hit for power, at times, in the past. But plate discipline would be new.
Naturally, that’s where Gomez comes in, another overmatched hitting, elite center fielder for years, who has become one of the best players in the National League. His defense stayed constant, and he learned to hit, despite not altering his ability to draw walks at all.
Two notes of caution here: Gomez has a much bigger frame than Lagares, and the power was always assumed to be in the offing. Gomez is a lanky 6’3”, 215, while Lagares is 6’1”, 175, and Gomez had more muscle at 21 than Lagares has at 24.
The other is that Gomez stands out in part because most players with his profile never manage to make the transition to regular, let alone to star. Go ahead and name another hitter with Gomez’s profile who has succeeded in recent years. I’m at a loss.
The reason it may have happened for Gomez, and not the others, is Gomez’s otherworldly athleticism. And it simply isn’t clear that Lagares, though he has evident gifts, possesses what Gomez does.
Now, there’s a lot of room between Gomez’s 2013 and what the Mets can expect from their non-Lagares center fielders, room enough to let Lagares play every day and see where he falls on that spectrum. And his recent play is encouraging, while his defense is a pleasure to watch.
But don’t assume Carlos Gomez as a likely outcome. It isn’t fair to Lagares, and it doesn’t make much sense.