New York Mets’ manager Terry Collins has decided that outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis will hit leadoff in the team’s upcoming spring training opener against the Washington Nationals. Collins is hoping to recapture the success the team had early in the 2012 season, when they were an above .500 with Nieuwenhuis starting in centerfield and leading off.
Nieuwenhuis started in 69 games last year, and led off in 29 of them before suffering a season ending injury in late August. He hit for a .264 batting average and a .303 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot. Although he hit for a decent average, Nieuwenhuis stole only four bases last season, as he is a non-aggressive base runner, unlike most leadoff men.
Collins batting Nieuwenhuis first will give the 25-year-old outfielder a chance to prove that he can be an everyday starter.
The Mets are expected to platoon Nieuwenhuis in center field with newcomer Collin Cowgill, as he has trouble with lefties. This means that if Nieuwenhuis proves worthy of the leadoff spot, the team needs a leadoff option when New York faces left handed pitchers. Shortstop Ruben Tejada is a logical choice after hitting .293 in the leadoff spot in 78 games last year. The downside to Tejada’s leadoff capabilities is that he strikes out more than he walks, hurting his on-base average.
Although the first game of spring training is not a big deal, Collins has given Nieuwenhuis the chance to build some confidence going into the season. The media has bashed the Mets’ outfield this off-season but Collins has shown his confidence in the group of unknowns, and particularly Niewenhuis with this decision.