Here’s what the Mets are banking on when it comes to Lagares

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 02 April 2015 | 18.18

PORT ST. LUCIE — The bat was thrown to the ground in disgust.

This was well before the Mets' 5-4 breaking-camp loss to the Cardinals Wednesday at Tradition Field.

Juan Lagares ended his round in the batting cage with that exclamation point.

That little explosion told you so much about how the Mets have changed their hitting mind-set this spring and how Lagares has changed his approach at the plate under new hitting coach Kevin Long.

Here is why the Mets and Lagares are near an agreement on a $23 million, four-year extension through 2019 with an option year for $9.5 million.

This isn't just about paying a Gold Glove center fielder.

Not only is Lagares the best defensive center fielder in baseball, but the Mets believe his offense is set to explode. Gold Glove defense and a big-time bat.

Michael Cuddyer told The Post Lagares reminds him of his ex-Twins teammate and former Met Carlos Gomez.

"Juan is starting to believe where his talent level is,'' Cuddyer said. "It's a lot of fun pumping him up because he's got a lot of talent. He reminds me a lot of Carlos. I was around Carlos in Minnesota when his tools were there, exceptional tools, but he hadn't put them together yet. I'm seeing Juan put it together and it's a lot of fun to watch."

Long said Lagares is "looking do damage and looking to put up big numbers,'' instead of just flaring the ball to right field.''

As for slamming that bat, there is reason for that.

The Mets, under Long and with the backing of veterans Cuddyer and David Wright, have instituted competitive games in batting practice where points are awarded for RBIs.

If you get used to knocking in runs during batting practice it can carry over to game time. You have to have the mind-set and the swing.

Lagares was upset because he had just lost to Cuddyer in his batting group.

Yes, this is kid's stuff, but remember: every day of his baseball life Derek Jeter played such competitive games during batting practice.

It is a fun way to focus on getting the job done and it is much more than get 'em over, get 'em in.

"Playing the RBI game really helps my focus,'' Lagares said. "You're up with the bases loaded, you want to do something good. It's fun, but you want to win.''

Competition is a good thing around the Mets this spring.

"We're counting RBIs, a base hit there will only get you two, we're looking to do a little more than that,'' Long said. "It's a friendly competition, one that they've taken to and they are liking it.

"They always want to know if it's 'Game On.' "

A hitter loses points if he fouls a ball off and more points if he pops the ball into the net. Long is judge and jury.

As for Lagares' improvement as a hitter, Long said, "He's really honing in on the strike zone. He is swinging the bat with authority. He is not guiding the bat head as much. He used to force a lot of balls to right field. The barrel is flatter, it's more direct and there is more force behind it, so all those things combined have helped him to be one of our most consistent hitters of the spring.''

Long said he had Lagares scoot a little closer to the plate, "so now the outside pitch is more middle. I want him to go up there to do some damage.''

Lagares, 26, finished the home Grapefruit League portion of the schedule batting .345 with 10 of his 20 hits going for extra-bases, including three home runs. His slugging percentage this spring is .638.

Yes, it's only spring training but last season while Lagares batted a respectable .281, his slugging percentage was just .382.

Don't guide the bat, do damage.

Lagares said he "loves'' being a Met because the club gave him the opportunity to play. Now he wants to continue to grow as a player.

He believes in the Mets, the Mets believe in him. Game on.

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