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New York Mets: Travis D’Arnaud, Juan Lagares Keys to a 2014 Playoff Push

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COMMENTARY | New York Mets fans have been focused on which players Sandy Alderson must acquire to improve the squad for 2014.

There are multiple holes in the lineup to address with external solutions, but the performances of Travis d'Arnaud and Juan Lagares are important to the organization. If the Mets want any chance of playing October baseball, these two need to step up.

Travis d'Arnaud

D'Arnaud is the biggest reason why Alderson traded R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays last winter. Despite his injury history, the organization felt his skills and upside were worth the risk.

The 24-year-old made his big league debut on August 17 against the San Diego Padres. He received most of the playing time behind the plate -- especially after the trade of John Buck to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 99 at-bats last season, d'Arnaud hit .202/.286/.263 with one home run and five RBIs. That stat line isn't pretty, but he played in only 63 games between the majors and minors in 2013 because of a fractured foot.

His consistent presence behind the plate and in the lineup will be important to the outcome of New York's 2014 season. The Mets are hoping the experience he received on the field last summer and fall will allow him to hit the ground running in spring training.

New York has a young nucleus in their starting rotation, including Jonathon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee and possibly Rafael Montero. His defense and how he handles the pitching staff will directly affect his offensive production.

If the pitchers aren't comfortable throwing to him, it will prevent him from being in the lineup consistently. It's hard to live up to expectations and hit 15-20 home runs a season when someone isn't playing every day. That power potential is what Terry Collins would love to pencil into his lineup daily.

The Mets haven't had a consistent and productive presence behind the plate since Paul LoDuca in 2006 -- d'Arnaud has the ability to provide that. Whether he follows through or not could determine which direction New York's season heads.

Juan Lagares

Lagares made his big league debut with the Mets on April 23, but didn't start making an impact until the summer. In April and May, the outfielder accumulated 50 plate appearances. From June through the end of the season, he walked to the plate 371 times.

He did show improvement at the plate with increased playing time. However, his .242/.281/.352 line isn't why Collins awarded him with the starting center field job -- it was his defense.

His 24.4 UZR (ultimate zone rating) tied for second-best among big league outfielders last season. Lagares also displayed a tremendous outfield arm -- his 15 outfield assists ranked third in the league. He saved 13.1 runs last year from his throwing ability -- the highest among all outfielders in 2013.

The recent signing of outfielder Chris Young to a one-year deal puts some pressure on him to produce at the plate. Lagares is currently penciled in as the starting center fielder, but Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger reports it will be an open competition come spring training.

If Lagares shows he can adjust and handle the bat against big league pitching, Young will shift to a corner outfield spot. If not, Young will take over in center field.

To prepare himself for 2014, Lagares is playing in the Dominican Winter League. The young outfielder is currently hitting .362/.395/.438 through 105 at-bats.

The Mets became a better team with Lagares patrolling center field. They played .500 baseball over the last 100 games of 2013 -- most of which he appeared in. His ability to catch almost anything gave pitchers the confidence to stick to their game plan in tight situations.

A lot of things must happen for the Mets to contend for a 2014 playoff spot. What Alderson does via trades and free agency will be important. However, the performances of incumbent players will ultimately make the difference between a winning team and a losing team.

Travis d'Arnaud and Juan Lagares are currently two major pieces of New York's puzzle for next season. Their performances will have a direct effect on whether or not the Mets will be playing meaningful games in September.

Sources:

Star-Ledger - report on Chris Young signing

Baseball Reference - player statistics

FanGraphs - advanced player statistics

Matt Musico's Mets opinion has been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Bleacher Report, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.

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