After getting injured after playing in seven spring training games New York Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis is finally healthy and back on the field, participating in a Grapefruit League game yesterday for the first time in nearly three weeks. That extended absence because of a knee injury may have cost him a spot on the Mets opening-day roster.
Heading into the season, Nieuwenhuis was penciled as the Mets starting centerfielder, and even after just one hit in his first 18 spring at bats, it still looked like a good bet that he would be in centerfield at Citi Field when the season began. However, his absence has allowed other players in the Mets outfield to get more playing time this spring, and those players have likely moved ahead of Nieuwenhuis on the Mets depth chart.
Collin Cowgill was expected to platoon with Nieuwenhuis in centerfield, but he has earned the right to increased playing time, and likely has eclipsed Nieuwenhuis as the starter on opening day. Jordany Valdespin has been outstanding this spring, and with his athleticism he’s capable of playing any of the outfield positions, despite a lack of experience. At this point, Valdespin could be the best option the Mets have in centerfield for a left-handed hitter, not Nieuwenhuis. Youngster Matt den Dekker has also stuck around major league camp longer than expected because of the absence of Nieuwenhuis, and is undoubtedly the best defensive option the Mets have in centerfield.
Despite playing well at the start of the 2012 season, Nieuwenhuis does not have the proven MLB track record to guarantee a spot on the Mets roster. Although he was the favorite heading into camp, his poor start and subsequent injury have put his job in jeopardy. Unless Nieuwenhuis can finish the spring season strong and earn a spot on the opening-day roster, the Mets will likely have five outfielders better than him, which will send Nieuwenhuis back to AAA to start the season, which would be a major setback in his career.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.