OFs Matt den Dekker and Juan Lagares are mirror images of each other. One is left-handed, one is right-handed, both are sure-handed. Each is highly touted for their speed, range, and arm in the outfield, as well as doubted for their ability to hit at the major league level.
Lagares has shown the world that, for at least the first two months of the 2014 season, he is perfectly capable of being a stand-out major league center fielder while contributing with the bat. Now, with Lagares on the DL, den Dekker has an opportunity to show he is just as capable as his reflection.
Den Dekker opened everybody’s eyes last Spring Training with his defense. Once a longshot to make the New York Mets‘ active roster in 2013, den Dekker suddenly entered into the conversation. If he could only hit .250 or so (they said), his defense would make him valuable. Then den Dekker had a fateful encounter with an outfield wall. He broke his wrist, and missed the beginning of the season.
In the meantime, Lagares got the Mets’ attention with his outfield defense and newfound offense at triple-A Las Vegas. When New York needed an outfielder in late April, Juan got the call. After struggling at the plate in April and May, something clicked. Lagares went on to post a .242/.288/.352 slash line, which was at least adequate consider the high caliber of defense he played.
In 2013, Lagares had 15 outfield assists and showed exceptional range. In 2014, he’s played the same stellar defense, while improving his slash line to .288/.331/.423. But with Juan on the DL, den Dekker will try to make himself irreplaceable, just as Lagares did.
In four games this year, den Dekker already has a home-run robbing catch and outfield assist to his credit. He’s also just 1-for-9 at the plate.
Den Dekker has a pattern of improving at the plate every second year he plays at a level in the minor leagues. Since he had a cup of coffee the majors at the end of last year, let’s call this his second year. If he can improve offensively, Lagares will have some competition, and the Mets will suddenly see their center field cup runneth over with talent.