A few hours before a game against the White Sox, Todd Frazier sat in the visitors’ clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field catching up with White Sox radio broadcaster Ed Farmer. Frazier spent 2016 and part of 2017 in Chicago, and the two of them joked about each others’ golf games and their respective golf handicaps. As they talked, Frazier looked over at utilityman and leadoff hitter Jeff McNeil and called him over.“This guy,” Frazier said to Farmer, gesturing toward his teammate as McNeil came to join them. “What are you, a plus one?” MORE: How to watch “ChangeUp,” an MLB whip-around show, for free on DAZNA handicap like that would essentially make McNeil good enough to be a pro, and under different circumstances McNeil might be a professional golfer right now instead of a baseball player. He was highly successful as a high school player in Pimodo, Calif., even playing in the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur Golf Championship when he was 17. But McNeil is unconventional. His path to the majors, his style of play, even the kind of bat he uses.Until his senior year in high school, McNeil had focused on golf and basketball — he was a solid at hoops too, averaging 17 points per game at Pimodo High School — but as a senior he went back to baseball for the first time in years. It wasn’t a set decision to leave one sport and fully pursue the other, but McNeil had been a good baseball player before high school, so he decided to pick it up again and see how things went.“It went the right direction, I guess,” McNeil joked to Sporting News. “I got seen by a college scout after a couple weeks.” Given that modern amateur baseball is so heavily shaped by high-profile tournaments and showcases, and that more and more of the players getting drafted in the majors have spent at least some time in the showcase circuit, it’s surprising that McNeil could attract attention and a college baseball scholarship so quickly — and after years of not playing the sport. Not that it was easy. McNeil said he knew he was talented and athletic enough to play, but getting the attention of scouts and college coaches was another matter.“I mean, no one knew who I was, especially in high school,” McNeil said. “There was no chance of me getting drafted out of high school because no one knew me. I was probably good enough.”All the same, McNeil played three years at Long Beach State, got drafted by the Mets in the 12th round in 2013, and made his debut in the majors last July. Now, with a calendar year in the the big leagues on McNeil’s resume, Mets manager Mickey Callaway is already likening his leadoff hitter to baseball legends.“He’s just a natural, gifted hitter. Like Wade Boggs … Ichiro,” Callaway told Sporting News.That’s high praise for a guy who’s yet to play a full season’s worth of games in the majors, but McNeil is a throwback of sorts. His style of play is from another era. In modern baseball, home run and strikeout rates are on the rise, but McNeil sprays singles and doubles to all parts of the field and keeps his strikeout rate close to 10 percent below the league average.“He can hit anything. … He can take the ball the other way on a pitch down and away. Up and away he’ll slap it that way, he can pull it,” Callaway said. “You compare him to a big slugger — if a pitcher makes pitches to a big slugger, he’s going to be out. Well, Jeff McNeil, you can make pitches to him and he still gets his base hit or infield single.”MORE: MLB trade deadline: Live updates, rumors, moreMcNeil’s spray chart covers the field in dots like a Georges Seurat painting, and a look at his heatmap on Fangraphs shows a lot of red in the strike zone. Up and away or down and in, he hits it.Assisting in those hits is McNeil’s unconventional bat. While McNeil was still in the minors in 2016, he saw one of his teammates using a bat with no knob on the end. And like baseball players will sometimes do when things are not going well, he decided to try it out. He asked Lamar Johnson, the hitting coach for the Double-A Binghamtom Mets at the time, for a bat like his teammate’s. He’s used a knobless bat ever since.“It helps me with bat control,” McNeil said.The handle is a lot thicker, and McNeil said it has better balance than a regular bat. Unusual as it might be, the results are hard to argue. Going into the series against the White Sox, McNeil had the second-highest batting average in baseball at .336, and he was tied for the third-most doubles in the National League at 27. He also has 10 home runs, but that number pales in comparison to his 78 singles.“He just knows what he’s capable of,” Callaway said. “If he tried to go up there and hit homers or do the launch angle thing, he wouldn’t be a successful major leaguer. So what he has done is he’s identified what he’s capable of doing, and that’s spray the ball around the ballpark, hit for average, get on base and set the table for the big boppers.”McNeil has not succumbed to the homer-happy trend. He’s not selling out for more home runs and accepting a higher strikeout rate as a result.“It’s just my style of play. It’s what I’ve always done,” McNeil said. “I’m up there just trying to get on base.”There are some parts of his game that still hearken back to his time as a golfer. Baseball and golf have a few similarities; baseball is a team sport, but like golf, stepping up to the plate is something each batter has to do for himself.“The team’s not batting, you’re batting, so it’s just you out there,” McNeil said. “Everyone’s just watching you for that one shot, everyone’s watching your at-bat, so you have to perform.”Callaway thinks McNeil’s years as a golfer have made him a better lowball hitter.“That’s kind of his natural swing, so if you throw him down and in you’re going to be in trouble,” Callaway said. Unconventional or just a throwback, McNeil is fun to watch. He plays second and third base and both corners in the outfield. At the plate, he’s a change of pace from a game with fewer and fewer guys who hit like he does. And even though he’s all but hung up the golf clubs, teammates and his manager still talk about how good he is with some amount of awe.“I haven’t golfed with him, but I hear stories,” Callaway said with a laugh. “He just can’t putt. If he could putt, he’d be shooting 65, I think.”And probably not playing baseball.