The forgotten man in the New York Mets’ outfield going into spring training this year was Kirk Nieuwenhuis. He’s had opportunities over the past couple of seasons to carve out a role with the Mets, but injuries and a lack of production prevented him from doing so, and with new acquisitions to the Mets’ outfield this past winter, Nieuwenhuis was lost in the shuffle heading into camp. However, Nieuwenhuis has surprised everyone with a strong performance this spring that could have him in the running for a roster spot.
Nieuwenhuis has appeared in 10 games this spring and hit .304 with three extra-base hits and seven RBI’s. He’s struck out a few too many times, but he’s also drawn six walks in 29 plate appearances, which is something the Mets have to be happy about. Nieuwenhuis is also running well, playing good defense, and reminding the Mets of the athleticism that once made him a quality prospect.
All along, it’s been assumed that either Eric Young Jr. or Juan Lagares would end up being the Mets’ fourth outfielder, while Andrew Brown would also have a spot on the team’s bench as a reserve outfielder and power source off the bench. But with his performance this spring, Nieuwenhuis has to garner some consideration for a place on the Mets bench, especially since the team will lack a left-handed bat off the bench, unless the loser in the first base competition between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda ends up taking Brown’s spot.
If Young Jr. beats out Lagares for a starting spot, the Mets could decide to send Lagares back to the minors to play every day rather than sit on the bench, allowing Nieuwenhuis to be the fourth outfielder. Nieuwenhuis is well suited for the role of fourth outfielder, and it may be advantageous for the Mets to do that, as it would allow Lagares to further develop as a hitter in the minors.
There’s also a chance that Nieuwenhuis could steal the fifth outfielder job away from Brown. Nieuwenhuis has somewhat comparable power to Brown, and he would give the Mets a left-handed presence on their bench, something they currently lack on their current roster projection. Moreover, Brown has struggled this spring, hitting just .200, giving Niewenhuis a fighting chance to make the team out of Spring Training.
Heading into the spring, Niewenhuis looked like a player that would end up getting cut by the Mets at the end of spring. But he’s been the team’s biggest surprise this spring, and he now has a realistic chance of playing his way onto the Mets’ Opening Day roster and become a contributing player for them in 2014.