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Player of the Decade

Jeff McNeil turned one season of baseball at Nipomo into an MLB career

Now a New York Met, this former Titan played just one season of baseball at Nipomo High

  • Updated

There's no questioning Jeff McNeil's greatness as an athlete during his days at Nipomo High School.

McNeil, who graduated from Nipomo in 2010, was a three-time letter winner in multiple sports -- basketball and golf.

In fact, on the Titans' golf team, McNeil was a three-time All-League pick and team MVP. McNeil played in the prestigious U.S. Junior Amateur. 

On the hardwood, McNeil averaged over 17 points a game during his senior season, helping the Titans advance to the playoffs. 

There's also this footnote in McNeil's bio: "...took up baseball during senior year."

Yes, McNeil, who was a talented youth baseball player, didn't focus on the sport during his high school days until returning to it as a senior in the spring of 2010. 

That was a brilliant choice. 

The left-handed hitter, who also swung a golf club left-handed but throws a baseball with his right hand, put together one of the more dazzling offensive seasons the area has seen over the last decade. McNeil hit .446 with seven home runs, three triples, 13 doubles and 30 RBIs. He also scored 26 times while smacking 41 hits in 26 games. He struck out 10 times that year and drew six walks. 

McNeil also pitched for Nipomo and coach John Stevens in 2010.

“He’s such an exciting player at shortstop — he covers a lot of ground and he makes a lot of plays. But we figured this was an emergency, and we had to go with him," Stevens said after McNeil earned a win over Righetti in 2010. 

McNeil is the third Player of the Decade nominee. He joins former Santa Ynez standout Zach Torra and Righetti's Troy Prober. 

McNeil initially committed to play baseball at Cal State Northridge, but eventually ended up at Long Beach State. 

There, he blossomed into a 6-foot-1, 180-pound infielder with quick hands, smooth feet and a sweet stroke. He started for three seasons with the Dirtbags, playing from 2011-13. He played in 164 games at LBSU and made 154 starts, primarily playing second base. As a junior, he hit .348 to earn First Team All-Big West honors as a utility player. McNeil added 16 doubles during his 2013 season with a .398 OBP and 13 stolen bases for the Dirtbags.

Where is McNeil now? Well, he's probably on a golf course somewhere, though that's not his day job. McNeil was selected in the 12th round of the MLB Draft in 2013 and is currently a starting utility player for the New York Mets. McNeil was named an All-Star in 2019.

McNeil, who will be 29 in April, has hit .319 in about two full seasons for the Mets. He's compiled 9.4 WAR in 248 games. He finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2018 in just 63 games, hitting .329.

For his major league career, McNeil is slashing .319/.383/.501 with 63 doubles, seven triples and 30 home runs. He's driven in 117 runs and score 137 times. 

That all almost didn't happen as McNeil was drawn to the game of golf and hoped for a future on the links.

"I grew up on a par-three course in Santa Barbara," McNeil said for a Times story in 2009. "My dad first took me out when I was four. I started playing tournaments when I was 12 or 13."

In 2010, McNeil was named to the All-Area First Team in both basketball and baseball.

The Times is polling current and former coaches to develop its list of nominees for Player of the Decade. A tournament-style voting contest will be held to determine the Player of the Decade. Readers will be able to vote online at santamariatimes.com; lompocrecord.com and syvnews.com. Players from Northern Santa Barbara County and Southern San Luis Obispo County whose final seasons where between 2009-10 and 2019-20 are eligible.

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