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Farm Report: Jeff McNeil a two-sport standout

Jeff McNeil is batting .331 for the St. Lucie Mets, but at one point he thought his future was in golf, not baseball. Courtesy of St. Lucie Mets

Infielder Jeff McNeil is the runaway leader in batting average in the Florida State League. He is hitting .331 for the St. Lucie Mets, 18 points ahead of runner-up Willians Astudillo of Clearwater.

Yet baseball may not even be the versatile McNeil’s best sport. An FSL All-Star, the 23-year-old McNeil also is a scratch golfer. Yes, he has a zero handicap. He played in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in 2009.

“I actually went out last week and shot 3 under,” McNeil said. “Teammates know I’m good. So they stay away. I was planning on playing college golf. It’s kind of what I wanted to do. But I actually didn’t get recruited very hard by anyone. So that’s kind of when I started playing baseball again.

“I started playing baseball on my brother’s scout team, actually. That’s where I got seen by Cal State Northridge. I basically signed my letter of intent with them. The coach got fired. Or he left. I ended up getting a leave and signed with Long Beach State right after that.”

McNeil, a 12th-round pick in 2013 out of Long Beach State, primarily has split his time between second and third base this season. He has also received limited work at first base and shortstop. He can be used in the outfield in an emergency. He had similar versatility in college.

“I can basically play everywhere,” McNeil said. “I grew up playing shortstop. When I went to college, I played second and left field my freshman year. And then my sophomore and junior year I played center, second and some right. I feel comfortable wherever they put me. That said, I’m most comfortable at second and third as of right now.”

McNeil’s younger brother Ryan, a third-round pick in 2012 by the Chicago Cubs, is now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. He is 0-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 15 appearances (one start) for South Bend in the Class A Midwest League.

As for McNeil, he has one homer and 18 RBIs in addition to his .331 average in 266 at-bats. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound McNeil said one goal is to “get a little bit stronger” and to drive balls with more power.

“I’ve always hit for average,” he said.

ORGANIZATION LEADERS

Average: Vinny Siena, Brooklyn, .405; Milton Ramos, Kingsport, .379; Kevin Kaczmarski, Kingsport, .370; Raphael Ramirez, Kingsport, .355; Jeff McNeil, St. Lucie, .331; Dash Winningham, Kingsport, .324; Kenneth Bautista, GCL Mets, .316; Michael Bernal, Brooklyn, .314; Jayce Boyd, Vegas, .304; T.J. Rivera, Vegas, .303.

Homers: Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 13; Josh Rodriguez, Binghamton, 13; Alex Castellanos, Vegas, 12; Michael Conforto, Binghamton, 10; Wuilmer Becerra, Savannah, 8.

RBIs: Josh Rodriguez, Binghamton, 50; Alex Castellanos, Vegas, 46; Dominic Smith, St. Lucie, 46; Michael Conforto, Binghamton, 43; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, 43.

Steals: Wilfredo Tovar, Vegas, 20; Champ Stuart, St. Lucie, 18; Patrick Biondi, Savannah, 15; Jeff McNeil, St. Lucie, 13; Jonathan Johnson, Savannah, 12.

ERA: Yoryi Nuez, Kingsport, 0.00; Casey Meisner, St. Lucie, 2.06; Steven Matz, Vegas, 2.19; Matt Blackham, Brooklyn, 2.31; Michael Fulmer, Binghamton, 2.53; Luis Cessa, Binghamton, 2.56; Merandy Gonzalez, GCL Mets, 2.70; Robert Gsellman, Binghamton, 2.83; Tyler Badamo, Brooklyn, 2.84; Harol Gonzalez, Kingsport, 3.07.

Wins: Robert Gsellman, Binghamton, 8; Casey Meisner, St. Lucie, 8; Steven Matz, Vegas, 7; Luis Cessa, Binghamton, 7; Scarlyn Reyes, Savannah, 7.

Saves: Paul Sewald, Binghamton, 14; Akeel Morris, Binghamton, 13; Jon Velasquez, Vegas, 12; David Roseboom, Savannah, 8.

Strikeouts: Steven Matz, Vegas, 94; Brad Wieck, Savannah, 74; Casey Meisner, St. Lucie, 72; John Gant, St. Lucie, 72; Martires Arias, Savannah, 69.

SHORT HOPS

  • Binghamton outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo will represent the Mets at the Futures Game on July 12 at Cincinnati. Nimmo, who missed a month with a sprained ACL in his left knee, quipped to the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: “When they first told me, I thought I was just being a chaperone for Conforto. It's definitely a surprise, but a happy surprise.” Nimmo, assigned to low-A Savannah at the time, went 0-for-2 in the 2013 Futures Game at Citi Field after being selected via a fan vote. A center fielder, Nimmo is hitting .277 with two RBIs in 47 at-bats since returning to Binghamton on June 18 after recovering from the knee injury. Conforto, a left fielder and the Mets’ top pick in the 2014 draft out of Oregon State, is hitting .303 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 105 at-bats since a promotion from St. Lucie.

  • Shortstop Matt Reynolds has not appeared in the field with Las Vegas since last Thursday, although he did pinch hit on Monday and then DH on Tuesday. Reynolds, whose bat Steven Matz used to produce three hits in his major league debut, is experiencing mild elbow inflammation and is being held out of fielding for the short term. He is hitting .270 with four homers and 43 RBIs in 285 at-bats this season.

  • The Mets opted to summon Johnny Monell over Anthony Recker with Travis d’Arnaud on the disabled list. So Recker is making the best of things in the Pacific Coast League. Recker has been named the league’s player of the week. In 10 games with the 51s, Recker is hitting .324 (12-for-37) with five homers and 13 RBIs. He has a .405 on-base percentage. Recker isn’t the only ex-Met thriving with Las Vegas. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is hitting .349 (15-for-43) with six homers and 16 RBIs and a .404 OBP in 11 games since clearing waivers and being outrighted to the PCL club.

  • Dillon Gee has been roughed up in two PCL starts since going unclaimed off waivers and being outrighted to Vegas. He has allowed 14 earned runs on 20 hits and three walks in 9 1/3 innings, for a 13.50 ERA.

  • Jayce Boyd, who has moved from first base to left field this season, pinch hit and then played left field on Monday with Las Vegas. That marked his first action in nine days. Boyd had been placed on the temporary inactive list because of a death in his family.

  • Jenrry Mejia’s “rehab assignment” as he works back from an 80-game PED suspension has shifted to Las Vegas. Mejia made his first appearance for the 51s on Monday. He tossed a scoreless inning, allowing one hit and striking out two.

  • Pitchers Luis Cessa and Paul Sewald, infielder Josh Rodriguez and Nimmo will represent the B-Mets in the Eastern League All-Star Game in Portland on July 15. Meanwhile, outfielder Travis Taijeron and Reynolds have been named Pacific Coast League all-stars. The game will be played July 15 in Omaha.

  • Left-hander Blake Taylor, who was the player to be named in the Ike Davis deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates a year ago, logged one inning in the Gulf Coast League on Monday. That marked Taylor’s first official game action this season. A team official said Taylor had been dealing with “tenderness.” Taylor, 19, went a combined 4-1 with a 3.98 ERA in 11 appearances (eight starts) between the GCL and Kingsport last season after the trade.

  • Desmond Lindsay, a prep center fielder from Florida and the organization’s top pick in last month’s draft, is working out at the Mets’ complex in Port St. Lucie. He should debut in the Gulf Coast League in the not-too-distant future. Lindsay received a reported $1.143 million signing bonus, which was recommended for the 53rd overall pick.

  • Jeff Walters, now more than a year post-Tommy John surgery, has made four GCL appearances since returning to games. He will stay in that league a while longer. Walters set Binghamton’s single-season and career records when he recorded 38 saves in 2013 with Binghamton.

  • Fourth-round pick David Thompson out of the University of Miami made his professional debut last Thursday with Brooklyn. A third baseman, he is off to a .313 start with the Cyclones (5-for-16), with five RBIs.

  • Rookie manager Luis Rivera had a rough day Friday with Kingsport. He accidentally omitted some relievers from his official lineup card and was forced to use three position players as pitchers -- center fielder Jose Figuera, first baseman Luis Ortega and third baseman Gregory Valencia. The trio combined to allow seven runs on four hits and seven walks in three innings.

  • Right-hander Casey Meisner had a solid Florida State League debut after going 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 12 starts with Savannah. The 6-foot-7 Meisner, a third-round pick in 2013 out of high school in Texas, allowed one run on three hits in seven innings against the Tampa Yankees on Saturday. Meisner’s fastball sits at 92-94 mph. Taking advantage of his height, he throws strikes on a downhill plane. Meisner also throws a changeup and curveball.

  • Akeel Morris has a 10.80 ERA in four relief appearances with Binghamton since being demoted from the Mets, although all of the damage came in one appearance, against Harrisburg last Friday.