New York Mets Preseason Position Report: Outfielders
The Mets Outfield Woes Continue as They Fail to Sign Bourn
Over the past week and a half, I have given my New York Mets position analysis on starting pitchers, infielders, catchers and bullpen in hopes that by time I got to the point to write on the outfield situation there would be some better news to discuss. With Michael Bourn signing a four year deal yesterday with the Cleveland Indians, it is safe to say that the Mets outfield will be a work in progress for 2013.
Manager Terry Collins may have a pretty good idea as to the front runners for the starting positions, but that doesn't necessarily mean that fans will look at the outfield as anything but a detriment to the upcoming season. There has been much talk about the defensive deficiencies as well as the lack of power and average from any of the candidates that take the field this year.
But maybe fans, analysts and writers alike need to have a more objective opinion before chalking up the season to a lost cause. There is always the possibility that whoever breaks camp and heads north with the Mets might just turn out to be a major league outfielder that can help their team win. Just maybe we have not given the Mets enough credit as it merely appears as though Sandy Alderson is "punting" in 2013.
In MLB, we have come to learn that anything can happen within the course of a nine inning game and a 162 game regular season. Not everything is as it seems. What we do know is that the Mets have good starting pitching. We are also aware that the infield will be a strength this year. We can safely assume that the catchers should be relatively better this year than they were in 2012. It might even be okay to assume that the bullpen will be incrementally improved over a year ago.
So, hopefully with a full year, and a healthy one, Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter might just turn out to be a bit better than anyone of us has expected. Maybe Collin Cowgill, Marlon Byrd, Andrew Brown and Matt Den Decker turn out to be valuable options and decent bench players. Let's just hope that the Mets can field a viable major league outfield that will not embarrass themselves. Here's to believing that the Mets can somehow move past not acquiring Bourn, who most had mixed feelings about anyway, and have faith in the ones who need to get the job done in 2013. Here is my preview as to what to expect this year from your New York Mets.
Nieuwenhuis Needs To Become The Leader in Center
Kirk Nieuwenhuis began his rookie year in 2012 looking very good in the Mets outfield. Up until June 15th, he posted a .297 average with 6HR and above average defense, and was beginning to make everyone in the organization think they found a diamond in the rough. But after that, Nieuwenhuis only batted .123 and started to look overmatched by any and all major league pitchers.
Some may think the trouble began with Nieuwenhuis missing a couple games with an undisclosed right hand injury in early July, but his lack of production became a mystery considering that he was beginning to appear in rookie of the year talks. Then he partially tore his plantar fascia in his right foot and had to be shut down in August. The combination of injuries may have led to a disappointing all around season by Nieuwenhuis, but this year he comes into spring training ready to show that the first half of 2012 was not a fluke.
Even though Nieuwenhuis may not be the "sexy" choice as a speedy center fielder like Bourn, would anyone argue with the potential of a .290 hitter with 10-14 homers and about 60RBI? If he can become better against lefties, the possibilities are endless. The one thing the Mets will get with Kirk is the youth and ability to get better with every game, and hopefully a leader in the outfield. It may not be too far-fetched here to say the Mets may have found the future in center.
Duda's Bat Needs to Make Up For Defense
Mets fans cringed with every bumbling run in left field last year. They were amazed at how inept his bat was at the plate when the opportunity for power has always been existent. Welcome to the 2013 Mets and their starting left fielder, Lucas Duda. After having wrist surgery in November and working with hitting coach Dave Hudgens more during the off-season, Duda is hoping to put a dismal 2012 behind him. Duda played 121 games for the Mets last season, but was optioned to AAA in order for him to get some quality at-bats and find his swing.
Duda projects as a middle of the order player who just needs more consistency at the plate, because without that, he can not make up for his defensive deficiencies. Duda is not a speedster, and has below average range in left field, but it will be the bat this year that keeps him in the lineup. Terry Collins has given Duda the nod as the starter, but he will need to improve on his .239 average from a year ago, and possibly belt 20HR, 75RBI and improve on his .718OPS while batting .260. If the Mets get that, they, as well as their fans, would be very happy, and Duda will be a difficult player to sit.
Baxter Does Not Have Much Competition
Because of the lack of quality competition in Mets camp this spring, it may be safe to assume that Mike Baxter will be the starting right fielder on opening day against the San Diego Padres. Last season, Baxter was remembered most for his highlight catch to save the best pitching performance in Mets history on June 1st: Johan Santana's no-hitter. On that play, Baxter slammed his left shoulder into the fence while diving to rob St. Louis Cardinal Jadier Molina in the seventh inning and wound up tearing rib cartilage on his right side as well as displacing a joint between his right collarbone and sternum.
In 89 games, Baxter batted .263 with 17RBI and a .778OPS. Although he does not project to be a power hitter, a full season in the majors may very well prove that he can be a good defensive outfielder and possibly a .280-.290 hitter that can have a good on base percentage. What the Mets hope is that he can provide enough to at least keep the Mets in games. Just remember that Baxter was hitting .323 with a .392OBP after forty games last year and has a very calm approach at the plate. It will be up to Baxter now to stay healthy and prove he belongs for 2013 and the future.
Bench Players May Have Bigger Role in 2013
Acquired outfielders Collin Cowgill and Andrew Brown were brought in to compete for spots in spring training, but it is evident that Collins has all but made up his mind who the starters will be heading north. That leave these two, and anyone else to battle for bench and platoon roles.
Cowgill will most likely platoon with Nieuwenhuis in center with the occasional start in right. He was brought in from the Oakland A's to provide depth, but has not had much success in an everyday role, but his benefit is that he can play all three outfield positions. In 38 games last season, he batted .269 with a .336OBP and a miserly .654OPS. It would be difficult to envision him winning a starting role, but is a likely candidate to make the roster as a bench player.
Brown will be an interesting player to watch during spring training. He only has limited action with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Colorado Rockies over the past two seasons, and has batted .224 with eight doubles and five homers in those 134 at-bats. He is a right handed bat with a potential that may just need more work, and at 28, is a low-risk player that can possibly become a diamond in the rough for Alderson and Collins. Even if he gets a call to the bench, Brown can be a factor in filling in at any of the outfield positions, and has even appeared in 239 games at first base in the minors, making him a valuable commodity.
Longshots To Break Camp
Every camp this spring across the majors has their degrees of players that will have a viable shot at making their respective clubs. Then there are the "fence" players that must absolutely play over their head in order to raise eyebrows and give managers and coaches a tough decision as the rosters are formed. For the Mets, these players are none other than Marlon Byrd, Matt den Dekker and Jordany Valdespin.
Byrd was released by the Boston Red Sox last year after serving a 50 game suspension for PED use. At 35, he is a non-roster invitee who only hit .210 in 47 games in 2012, and I question if he has much left in his tank. This is a low-risk move for Alderson, as Byrd has the ability to hit around .270 with some pop in his bat, and defensively can be a solution, not a problem. But at his age, there is no telling what you might see this spring. I do not feel as if he will be one to come north in 2013, but if I'm wrong, then that makes the Mets better in their outfield.
Den Dekker is a rising star for the Mets, but may need consistent at-bats in the minors in order to keep him fresh and on track for 2014 and beyond. Last season in the minors, den Dekker batted .274 with 17HR, 31 doubles and 76RBI in 533 plate appearances. He projects as a power hitting outfielder that can also hit for average and has solid defense. The issue with den Dekker in 2013 is that he is another left handed hitter, when the Mets are flush with them. If he can duplicate those numbers in Las Vegas, though, we may be seeing den Dekker sooner rather than later in the lineup.
Jordany Valdespin is on this list because of his propensity to be electric in 2012. With his pinch-hit homers and flexibilities in outfield and infield, he may very well be in the mix come opening day. But he is not a great defensive player, and was routinely exposed last year when working everyday. But because he is a good option to come off the bench, a solid spring may gain him a roster spot. I am not sold on him as more than a minor league player faking it in a major league clubhouse, but as we see, the uphill climb is not all that steep. I still see him heading west come April, instead of north.
Other players that will get looks, albeit brief, in the outfield will be Justin Turner, Juan Lagares and Cesar Puello. Don't expect any of these names to become angels in their outfield in 2013.