According to hitting coach Luis Natera, better plate discipline and a little more patience should be all it will take.
"Sometimes he tries to do too much," Natera said. "He needs to [wait for] good pitches and to get ahead of the count. You have to stay aggressive with the fastball, but sometimes he goes out of the zone and chases pitches, so one of my goals is to make him stay under control...and have more plate discipline."
Lagares earned a promotion to Binghamton at the end of last July after posting a .380 on-base percentage and a league-best .338 batting average for the St. Lucie Mets. In August, Lagares compiled a 19-game hitting streak, and he finished the season with career highs in on-base percentage (.383) and batting average (.349). He was added to the New York Mets' 40-man roster in November and spent the majority of training camp with the team this spring.
"Last year they told me I need to work a lot on my on-base percentage, try to get more on base, steal, and help the team," Lagares said. "I work a lot on trying to get more on base, try to [shrink] the strike zone, try to find the good pitches to hit and not try to hit pitches out of the strike zone."
Manager Pedro Lopez agreed that plate discipline remains one of the few missing pieces of the puzzle for Lagares, who walked just 26 times last season in 470 at-bats.
"Plate discipline [is] the number one thing he needs to work on," Lopez said. "He put up great numbers last year, but in order for him to have success at the higher levels, he needs to shrink that strike zone a little more."
Natera said that after getting off to a bit of a slow start in Spring Training, Lagares has begun to turn things around in the first month of the regular season.
"In Spring Training he struggled a little bit, he [didn't] have his timing down [or his] rhythm down," Natera said. "Here, he's been working [on his] lower half rotation, hand separation, better timing, better rhythm, and he's starting to swing the bat much better."
Through the team's first 22 games of the season, Lagares owns a .256 batting average and has already collected better than a third of the number of walks he recorded in 120 games last season.
Lagares played in a career-high number of games in 2011 after having four of his prior six professional seasons significantly limited by injury. He said staying healthy will be a major focus of his this year, and Lopez echoed the sentiment.
"[My] number one [expectation for him is] for him [is] to stay healthy and just do what Juan Lagares is capable of doing and not trying to do too much," Lopez said. "I think if he learns how to do that he's gonna be just fine."
Lopez called Lagares a "complete athlete" who made the transition from shortstop to outfield in 2009 and is now able to play any position in the outfield. Lagares also has speed, and his ability to steal bases is one of the main reasons a high on-base percentage is key.
"He's a great athlete, one of the best we have out there," Lopez said. "In order for him to have some success at the higher level, especially at the Big League level, he needs to stay under control and play this game."
For Lagares, the expectations for 2012 are straightforward.
"Try to be healthy the whole season and help my team the best I can," he said. After a brief pause and a smile, he added, "And try to get to the big leagues."
Lagares Working On Plate Discipline
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