June 2013: McNeil was the Mets 12th round pick, out of Long Beach State, where they teach how to play baseball the right way
The baseball player in the family was younger brother Ryan, who would become a third-round choice of the Chicago Cubs in the 2012 Draft out of high school. But McNeil decided to join his brother's summer league team before his senior season and showed he had a future in baseball as well as golf.
Baseball won out, and the native of Santa Barbara, California, landed at Long Beach State. Like Duffy, he didn't hit a homer out of cavernous Blair Field in his three seasons, but he impressed otherwise.
Golf, though, is still very much part of his life. On a early August off-day, in 2015 McNeil shot a five-under-par 67 at Martin Downs Golf Club in Palm City, Florida.
"I still have it occasionally," he said. "Not a single bogey."
McNeil went back and got his degree from Long Beach State in recreation and leisure and interned at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach.
"I can see myself in the business side of golf someday," he said. "Maybe even try to play a little bit on the mini-tour."
In 2016, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated McNeil as the 27th-best prospect in the Mets organization.
For most of this summer, Jeff waited, waited, waited for a callup that he figured would eventually come. Consistently batting well over .300, McNeil believed if he continued plugging away at the highest levels of the Minors, he would end the year in Flushing.
Prepared though he was, when the call finally came, McNeil scrambled. Watching television at his home in Las Vegas, McNeil stuffed all his belongings in a suitcase. Then he raced to the airport, where he narrowly missed his red-eye flight to New York. He quickly rebooked a slightly later one. "It was a little stressful," McNeil said, laughing.
The hectic day did not, however, affect McNeil's debut. Entering the 6-3 win over the Padres as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, McNeil punched the first pitch he saw into shallow center field for a single. The ball, which he plans to frame and give to his mother, was already on display in his locker after the game.
"It felt amazing," McNeil said. "You always want to get your first hit out of the way. I'll come back tomorrow and try to do the same thing."
He should continue to receive those opportunities. The Mets' roster flux offers a prime chance for McNeil, who hit safely in his last seven games at Las Vegas. He placed among the Eastern League's home run and OPS leaders throughout his time there.
A career .311 hitter in the Minor Leagues, McNeil credited his 2018 surge to being fully healthy for the first time in two years. Now recovered from a sports hernia and a torn hip labrum, which limited him to 51 games the past two seasons, McNeil says he has added enough bulk to turn his doubles into homers.
"I'm having a pretty good year," said McNeil, whose wife, parents, and siblings flew in from Santa Barbara, Calif., to watch his debut at Citi Field. "I was swinging the bat well. I was putting together good at-bats. I knew if I did that, I would eventually get a call."
The issue with McNeil is his defense. A natural second baseman, McNeil is blocked at that position by Asdrubal Cabrera, at least until the Mets find a trade partner for the veteran. Instead, McNeil figures to play third base with the Mets -- a position he manned early in his Minor League career, but only recently began revisiting. Manager Mickey Callaway said that McNeil could bounce around the infield, and even the outfield, in Flushing.
"We feel comfortable with him at multiple positions now," Callaway said. "That was kind of a goal of the last couple of weeks, was to kind of hone on a couple more positions, to give us more options." (DiComo - mlb.com - 7/24/18)
Clustered in a rack on one end of the Mets' dugout, different players' bats are typically identifiable only by the numbers stuck to their knobs and the names on the barrels. But one group of bats, belonging to Jeff McNeil, stands out.
Unlike nearly every other player in Major League Baseball, McNeil uses a bat with no knob. Instead of mushrooming out near the bottom, McNeil's lumber widens gradually toward the end. Although his bats are of average size—34 inches, 32 ounces—McNeil says the unorthodox weight distribution gives him more control.
"It just feels lighter because it's so balanced," McNeil said. "The weight's throughout the bat. It's not all in the barrel."McNeil initially began using the model in 2016, when Mets Minor League hitting coordinator Lamar Johnson handed them out to a group of Minor Leaguers. Instantly, McNeil liked the feel of his, hitting a home run in one of his first at-bats with it. He used it exclusively from that point forward. (Anthony DiComo - MLB.com - Aug. 4, 2018)
2018 season : McNeil was never a top prospect, and when he arrived in the big leagues, he first drew attention for his unusual knobless bat. But since he took over at second base following the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, he's been a revelation at the plate, commanding attention for his outstanding contact ability and all-around hitting prowess. McNeil hasn't slowed down, either,
Jeff came up to the Mets on July 24, 2018, and immediately began doing what he has done since he started in Rookie level in 2013. McNeil hit. In this home run time in baseball, he has sprayed line drives all over the field and by the end of the season he had hit .329 for the Mets. It should have surprised no one. He had hit .329 all the way back in Kingsport. He had hit .300 pretty much everywhere. He is the best hitter for average in baseball right now that nobody talks very much about, at least outside New York.
Since the day McNeil got into the lineup with the Mets last July, there is one player with more than 200 at-bats who has a higher average than McNeil’s .349. That player is Christian Yelich. Yelich is nine points higher, at .359. That is how good McNeil has been since his debut. He is a throwback contact hitter out of the past. Once he got into the Mets’ lineup, nobody could get him out.
The least surprised person in the ballpark about all this seems to be McNeil himself. He’s not arrogant. He just knows what he can do, mostly because he’s been doing it since he signed his first professional contract. He works the count. He hits the ball where it’s pitched. And keeps hitting.
“Every level of the Minor Leagues, I’ve hit the ball hard,” McNeil said. “When I got here [to the Major Leagues], nothing changed.”
Even with his lefthanded, line-drive swing, McNeil has never been treated like a phenom
Even with his lefthanded, line-drive swing, McNeil has never been treated like a phenom. But he made Mets fans pay attention, almost right away. In a lost season when the Mets seemed to stop hitting for months after an 11-1 start, McNeil came up the Minor Leagues and was on first base every time you looked up. (Lupica - mlb.com -4/18/19)
If Jeff held any lingering hope of letting his “Flying Squirrel” nickname fade into obscurity, he abandoned it before a live national audience on April 30, 2019. During an interview, McNeil grinned, laughed and admitted to the moniker, which he has had since college. At the time, a teammate thought he looked like a flying squirrel, diving all over the field. The nickname followed him to pro ball and eventually to the Majors, where McNeil’s play has served only to highlight it in bold.
McNeil’s second hit (of four on the day), a bunt to the right side of the infield with two outs and a man on third, revealed his inner squirrel
McNeil’s second hit (of four on the day), a bunt to the right side of the infield with two outs and a man on third, revealed his inner squirrel. (DiComo - mlb.com - 4/30/19)
July 16, 2019: McNeil received the MLB Players Alumni Association "Heart and Hustle" award for the Mets. This esteemed award honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and traditions of the game. The Heart and Hustle Award is also the only award in Major League Baseball that is voted on by former players.
July 26, 2019: McNeil makes his push for a puppy with a three-run blast. During the Mets batting practice, representatives from the North Shore Animal League set up a pen near the Mets’ dugout to house a group of puppies up for adoption. The Long Island-based rescue and adoption organization does this every year to raise awareness for puppies seeking a home. When Jeff McNeil wandered over to meet the dogs, he became so smitten with one that he grabbed his cell phone and started a video chat with his wife, Tatiana, asking her if she would be willing to add a third member to their household.
“She’s really smart!” McNeil pleaded to his wife, knowing that she would be responsible for tending to the pooch when the Mets go on the road.
A few hours later, McNeil hit a three-run homer in the Mets’ 6-3 win over the Pirates, which he believes will help his cause.
“Hitting a home run after holding a puppy, I think it gives me a little bargaining chip,” McNeil said. “If my wife wants more homers, then we have to get a puppy.”
In fairness, McNeil has 10 home runs this season, the previous nine coming with no puppies in sight. He also has an NL-leading .340 average, 27 doubles and 44 RBIs. But in his eyes, none of that makes up for the lack of a cuddly pet. That could change; McNeil scheduled a follow-up with the North Shore Animal League to meet the puppy again.
If he hits another home run, Tatiana McNeil may not have much of a choice.
“I got in the dugout and said, ‘We’re getting a puppy,’” McNeil said. “Yeah, I was pretty happy. How could you not be happy with a puppy in your hands?”(A DiComo - MLB.com - July 26, 2019)
Sure, being on the road for half the year is a bummer for a ballplayer. They have to sleep in a strange bed, away from their family and friends and all their normal routines. There is one upside, though: all the amazing restaurants they get to try out.
With the Mets set to begin a series with the White Sox in Chicago, All-Stars Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil went to one of the world's most inventive, interesting and absolutely nutty restaurants out there: Alinea.
The restaurant from Chef Grant Achatz is noted for its upscale American cuisine served in the most creative ways possible. Their website refers to a reservation (somewhere between $260-$395, before drinks) as a "multi-sensory, multi-course" meal. That includes intricate platings, liquid nitrogen drinks and a forever-evolving menu. It's basically edible art.
So, when the guys sat down for their meal, McNeil was already overwhelmed. And that was before they reached the famous dessert, where the artistically decorated plate is brought down from the ceiling, and the food is made on the table in a swirl of smoke. (Michael Clair - MLB.com - July 30, 2019)