The New York Mets have had an abysmal 2018 season to this point, and as such the organization has turned most of its attention toward developing the team’s younger players. However, newly signed center fielder Austin Jackson is proving that the Mets may still benefit from starting its veteran players down the stretch.
The Mets entered the 2018 season with just one traditional center fielder on the team’s roster in Juan Lagares, who has been out since May with a broken toe. Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, both of whom are primarily corner outfielders, have been forced to split time in center, and while neither has played horrible defensively, the Mets will need them to play the two corner outfield positions as Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce continue to miss time due to injuries.
Austin Jackson, a 31-year-old center fielder who started the season with the San Francisco Giants, was signed by the Mets following Cespedes’ season-ending surgery. Jackson was released by the Giants due to poor offensive metrics, but the Mets hoped he could become a serviceable bench player who would allow Nimmo and Conforto to play their preferred positions on a more regular basis.
Since joining the Mets, Jackson has made it exceedingly hard for the team to keep him off the field, posting an outstanding 1.173 OPS with two home runs and eight RBI in just 11 games. It may be just a small sample size at this point, but Jackson has all but solidified his role as the team’s starting center fielder, pushing fellow mid-season acquisition Jose Bautista out of the outfield and into a platoon with Todd Frazier at third base.
Jackson boasts a respectable .275 career batting average, but his .737 career OPS trends closer to the major league average, indicating that this level of success will probably not continue through the end of the season. Additionally, Jackson is a free swinger, having led the American League in strikeouts during his rookie season and having already struck out 68 times through 70 games this season, and the last thing the Mets need is another batter with a low on-base percentage and a high strikeout percentage.
Still, the Mets hope that Jackson’s wholistic approach to hitting will rub off on Nimmo and Conforto, as both have failed to hit for average on a consistent basis during their major league careers. Nimmo and Conforto already possess a lot of power and an innate ability to get on base, so combining those traits with an enhanced ability to make good contact could transform them into even more well-rounded offensive weapons.
All five of the outfielders on the Mets’ Opening Day roster are signed for at least another two seasons, so it would appear highly unlikely that Jackson would be resigned this offseason. Nevertheless, Jackson should benefit greatly from the opportunity afforded to him by the Mets to showcase that he is still capable of contributing beyond his age-31 season.
The Mets added Jackson believing that he could be a solid option off the bench, but he has almost singlehandedly carried the offense over the course of the past two weeks. His time with the Mets will probably be brief, but for the time being, he is giving Mets fans something to cheer about during a season which has lacked such occasions.
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