PORT ST. LUCIE — Juan Lagares is working toward finding a hitting stroke he hopes will lead toward substantial playing time in 2017.
But in the Mets’ crowded outfield, opportunities could be scarce. For now, the Mets view Lagares as a backup and late-innings defensive replacement for Curtis Granderson in center field who could play against lefties.
Lagares would like to forget 2016, when he jammed his left hand diving to catch a ball in the outfield early in the season and eventually underwent surgery to repair a thumb ligament. Overall, he had a .239/.301/.380 slash line with three homers and nine RBIs in 79 games.
“It’s frustrating, but that is the way I play the game,” Lagares said, referring to the injury. “I just want to give my 100 percent every time I get an opportunity, so it’s nothing I can control. You play hard and try to stay healthy as best I can.”
Selectivity at the plate always has been an issue for Lagares.
“I thought last year I did way better on that part, but if you don’t have an opportunity to get out there, there is no way to get better,” Lagares said. “I will just wait, and we’ll see.”
Hitting coach Kevin Long has moved Lagares closer to the plate this spring. Though Lagares still doesn’t have a hit in five at-bats in the exhibition season, manager Terry Collins has been encouraged by a few hard-hit balls.
“He’s got enough power to be dangerous, so he’s certainly got to be a guy we see some advancement on the offensive side,” Collins said. “You just know that at some time this kid is going to be a big part. And so we’ve got to make sure that what we’re working on right now that he can take it into a game. So far he has.”
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