Opportunity could be knocking for Matt den Dekker if Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ knee injury turns out to be more serious than just a bruise. We’ll know more on that later today.
The Mets will consider all their options if Nieuwenhuis were to miss any significant time, but one could make a strong argument that den Dekker could have a leg up on his competition because of his stellar defense which can impact a game as much as a solid bat. His glove-work is that good. Here is what I wrote about that this weekend…
Original Post 3/2
If you have been watching the Mets at all this spring, one thing has become evident – Matt den Dekker deserves a shot to be the Opening Day centerfielder.
Throw the offensive stats out the window for just a second and ask yourself who you would want out there chasing down fly balls. After seeing a few highlight reel catches already this spring, it becomes more and more evident who should get the nod.
Now let’s take the spring stats into consideration. Here is a breakdown of how the Mets outfield competition is playing out so far this Spring:
(Games played through March 1 – Note: Nieuwenhuis should read six strikeouts.)
The common argument when looking into spring training stats is that they should be taken with a grain of salt. In other words, don’t put too much weight into whether a player gets off to an extremely hot start, or an extremely cold start.
While that argument holds some validity, because spring stats are not factored into any regular season awards and does not factor into the race for the pennant, when you have a situation like the Mets have, where it’s an open audition for an outfield job, spring stats will definitely impact the decision of who is standing in the Mets outfield on opening day.
With that being said, looking at the stats shown above, only a couple of guys have gotten off to hot starts in the outfield–and one of them (Valdespin), has yet to get any reps in the outfield.
Den Dekker’s spring stats are comparable to the other players vying for an outfield job with the exception of Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd. However, defensively, den Dekker sticks out like a sore thumb amongst his colleagues, and I mean that in a good way.
Terry Collins should be looking at ways to strengthen the team’s defense up the middle, and the best way to do that right now is by having den Dekker out there. Having a defensive player like den Dekker in center will make the pitching staff that more effective. Having a gold glove caliber outfielder in center will also take the pressure off the other outfielders, and help cover some of the defensive gaps that may exist when Lucas Duda or Byrd are out there with him.
Having solid defense up the middle will also let the pitchers pitch the way they want to pitch. If a pitcher has too little confidence in the defense behind them, they will try to strike every hitter out. This inevitably leads to more walks as they try to nibble corners (unless they are a power pitcher) because they are afraid to let the hitters put the ball in play. So by having a defender of den Dekker’s quality in centerfield, pressure is not only taken off of the other outfielders, but the pitcher as well.
If den Dekker can perform offensively as well as the other outfielders on the roster, then why not just have him join the team right out of spring training? Right now, is there any reason to believe that he can’t perform as well offensively, or maybe even better than the other outfielders on the Mets roster?
I did my weekly MMO Prospect Pulse on Matt den Dekker, and while I noted I wasn’t sure he would ever be a .300 hitter at the major league level, I do think he has the potential to be a 20/20 player; a 20/20 player that can win a gold glove. Maybe we are starting to see why the Mets may have not pulled the trigger on Michael Bourn after all.
The only argument I can see being made about den Dekker being given the keys to the centerfield job with the Mets this year was his performance when promoted to Buffalo last year.
However, as I noted in last week’s feature, it has been a trend across his career thus far to go through an adjustment period when promoted. During that adjustment period, his offensive stats tend to take a dip. However, after the adjustment period, his offensive numbers are at an all-star level. Mix that in with that solid defense, and there is only one man for the job this year in centerfield.
There is no reason to start den Dekker at Las Vegas this year. Throw him in centerfield, bat him in the eight hole of the lineup where he will experience minimal pressure, and let him do his thing. He will figure it out. The best thing for his development would be to let him adjust to the major league pitchers and the major league level while taking advantage of that ridiculous defensive skill set.
The Mets need den Dekker’s glove in centerfield, and when his bat comes around, they will be able to use that too. But the Mets have to stick with him. They can’t send him down to Las Vegas if he starts to go through an adjustment period at the big league level. Let the kid figure it out and entertain us with some jaw dropping catches while he’s in the process.
Enjoy this recent den Dekker highlight-reel catch from last week’s Grapefruit League action!
In case you missed it, check out my exclusive MMO Prospect Pulse on Matt den Dekker.
Follow MMO Minor League Analyst Mitch Petanick on Twitter at @FirstPitchMitch for even more Mets Minor League and prospect coverage.