Unless the Wilpons hit the Powerball jackpot in the next couple of months, the Mets are not likely to sign any big name free-agents, a la Josh Hamilton, to play centerfield. Barring any off-season trades (I don’t see anything significant occurring), Kirk Nieuwenhuis will be the Mets opening day centerfielder. Beam me up, Sandy. Captain Kirk is heading back to Queens.
The question is whether or not Kirk can handle the everyday duties of being a major league centerfielder. Many scouts think he would be better suited to play a corner outfield position, but the Mets seem to have confidence in his ability to play centerfield. Either that or they don’t have any other viable option, so they have to save face by showing confidence in the youngster.
When he was called up in early 2012, he was playing so well at one point that he was garnering rookie of the year attention. Then he started to slump, and was eventually optioned back down to triple-A once Andres Torres returned from his stint on the disabled list. Everyone was hoping that Kirk would get called up later in 2012, so we could get another look at the young prospect, but a foot injury ended his season.
I am probably in the minority, but I like what Kirk brings to the table. He strikes out too often, but he is a gamer. He isn’t the sexy pick for the New York fans, who want a big name star roaming centerfield, but he plays the game with passion, and I can see him winning over the hearts of Mets fans if given the chance. He’s a blue collar type player. He won’t blow you away with any portion of his game, but he plays hard. He may never play in an All-Star game, but he has the ability to be a very solid major leaguer. He doesn’t have great speed, but he is a great athlete. He has the potential to hit 20 home runs, and he has gap to gap power. He could be a solid hitter to supplant in the back-end of the lineup.
The issue with Kirk is he would be a great fit in centerfield if the Mets had solid corner outfielders to bookend him. Kirk’s play would be elevated if he was asked to be part of the solution, not the definitive answer. What I mean by that is that Kirk is the type of player that would be elevated if the right pieces are around him. Instead, his weaknesses will get exposed with weaker outfielders to his left and right. In centerfield, he will have to compensate for his own weaknesses, as well as the weaknesses of the players on either side of him. The Mets are asking a lot from a player that lacks any significant time at the big league level.
So, we are still posed with the question of whether or not having Kirk as the opening day centerfielder is a good plan, or an act of desperation? I think the answer is a little bit of both. It’s desperate because the Mets are being forced to throw Kirk into the fire and crossing their fingers in hopes that it works out. These are the types of decisions that make or break a general manager’s career. If Kirk rises to the occasion, Sandy will look like a genius. If not, well…
Is Kirk the future centerfielder for the Mets?
Probably not. He will eventually settle into a corner outfield position assuming he produces at a solid level offensively. I believe he can be a very valuable player for the Mets, and that we should be looking forward to what Kirk might be able to bring to the table going forward. Mark my words, regardless of what position he plays, Mets fans will be won over by Kirk.