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Where do Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza rank among center fielders?

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This month, Buster Olney ranked the top-10 players in baseball by position. Five Mets made the cut or were listed as honorable mentions (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson). That got us to wondering where other prominent Mets rank. This article series takes a look. Today we focus on centerfielders Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza.

Juan Lagares & Alejandro De Aza

We’re about 3 1/2 months from the start of the season, but right now it looks like the Mets will go with a platoon of newly signed Alejandro De Aza and defensive standout Juan Lagares in center field.

The reasoning for this is fairly straightforward. De Aza hits right-handed pitching well. Over the past two seasons, he’s hit .277 and .278 with on-base percentages of .340 and .351 and an OPS of .766 and .800 against righties. That makes him an acceptable option as a leadoff hitter as well as a good one at the bottom of the lineup. De Aza doesn’t hit well against left-handed pitching, but Lagares does. He has a career slashline of .279/.325/.427 against lefties, but the numbers dip (a .627 OPS) against righties.

Each stole seven bases last season and has shown glimpses of being a good, but not great baserunner. The flaw in De Aza’s game is his defense. He hasn’t played centerfield since 2013 and that season, he rated among the worst in baseball by defensive runs saved. Lagares won a Gold Glove two years ago and though his defensive metrics dropped in 2015 (perhaps because of a hamstring injury from the previous season), he’s still highly regarded at the position.

If Lagares showed something more than he did in 2015, the position would probably be his on its own, allowing De Aza to fill in at two (and maybe even all three) spots. But that’s not the case.

What the scouts say

The consensus we got from speaking with a pair of major-league scouts is that the Mets are trying to maximize the skills of two players who would rank in the lower half of center fielders if they were the primary starter at the position.

"Juan still needs to work on his pitch recognition," said one scout, citing Lagares’ tendency to chase breaking pitches from right-handers. "But I’d still put him at the very top (rankings-wise) on defense."

Our other scout source described de Aza this way: "An athlete and a plus baserunner, who is capable in left field and center field and has good splits versus righties. But he has a streak bat. He’s a nice fourth outfielder and a starter on a below-average team."

Looking ahead

ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski's ZiPs system projected a .257/.319/.403 slashline with nine home runs and 12 steals in 432 at-bats for De Aza, though it’s defensive projection of 0 runs saved was based on him as a left fielder (we’re going to guestimate -10 runs saved based on his past in center field). This would rate him only a hair above replacement level. It views Lagares as a likely two-win player in 2016, despite a slashline of .261/.297/.369, as it projects a defensive bounceback to nine runs saved.

Lagares would seem to have a much higher ceiling, given that he was valued at 5.5 WAR in 2014 before plummeting to 0.6 in 2015. Perhaps De Aza’s acquisition will be the push he needs to find his way to the top half of the center field rankings.