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Monday, September 2, 2013
August's top MLB defender: Juan Lagares

By Mark Simon

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Juan Lagares has made tough catches look routine since being recalled by the Mets.

Juan Lagares had to beat out the best of the best to win the ESPN.com Sweet Spot blog Defensive Player of the Month award for August.

Lagares topped two-time 2013 winner Andrelton Simmons and impressive Colorado Rockies rookie Nolan Arenado to take the award this month.

The award is voted on by ESPN.com writers, including Jayson Stark and Doug Glanville, baseball researchers for ESPN Stats & Information and other baseball media.

It was well-earned. Lagares led the majors with 12 Defensive Runs Saved in August (one more than Simmons, three more than Arenado). That value came both from his ability to range far outside his position to catch balls, but also from a throwing arm that has ranked among the best in the sport since his arrival.

Lagares was credited with 22 “out-of-zone” putouts by Baseball Info Solutions in August, with an “out-of-zone” catch being one made in an area in which center fielders turn batted balls into outs less than 50 percent of the time.

Lagares had 67 out-of-zone plays in 663 2/3 innings in center field through the end of August. His rate of one out-of-zone catch for every 9.9 innings (basically one per game) played ranks best in the majors at that position.

Good examples of his glove work include these two plays, one in which he came in to rob Jedd Gyorko of the San Diego Padres and this one in which he went all the way back to the fence to steal a hit from Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Lagares, a converted infielder, didn’t even figure to be the team’s top defender coming through their farm system. That honor belonged to recent call-up Matt den Dekker, who made ESPN’s Top 10 plays a couple times before even making the majors. But when den Dekker got hurt this spring, and the Mets needed a lift from their outfield reserves after Collin Cowgill fizzled in an initial tryout, Lagares took advantage of his opportunity.

“His confidence is sky high as far as going to get balls,” Mets outfield coach Tom Goodwin told Adam Rubin prior to Sunday night’s game against the Washington Nationals. “You lose that instant excitement when you first get here, and the jitters, and he doesn’t have that any more. He just goes out there and plays the game. That’s the biggest compliment I can give him. He’s really matured beyond his years.”

Lagares leads the National League and ranks second in the majors in outfield assists with 12, trailing only Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon. He’s become a base-running deterrent both due to his positioning (he likes to play shallow) and his instincts (he gets to balls quickly).

“You’ll see him get to some balls where they’re line drives and he’s getting to them on the first hop, instead of two or three hops later,” Goodwin said. “His routes are outstanding. His reads are outstanding. And when he comes in, he makes good, strong, accurate throws.”