At NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton we called him Double-D. After Matt den Dekker joined the Mets Double-A roster, it didn’t take long for a B-Met mainstay, a fan who dutifully mans a seat behind home plate a nudge to the third base side, to shout out, “Come on Double-D, hit it hard somewhere,” when den Dekker strode to the plate.
That Binghamton fan, a guy who each year comes up with nicknames to greet the new B-Mets players as they approach the batter’s box, only had to peek at the Binghamton scorecard to come up with Double-D. But, after watching MDD man the outfield for parts of two seasons in Binghamton, Double-D for B-Met fans grew to have more to do with the double dose of defense the B-Met outfielder provided in centerfield than the double-d’s found in his name.
Consider this. When Matt den Dekker played centerfield at Binghamton his outfield skill set was so strong, Juan Lagares was often delegated to take a corner outfield spot, most often right field because of Lagares’ incredible throwing arm.
You could argue about which Binghamton outfielder should have been starting in which outfield spot and why, but watching these guys patrol the outfield at NYSEG Stadium left little debate about the defensive assets they brought as an outfield tandem to a baseball team.
As great as the B-Met defensive whiz kids were, they had distinctive styles that set them apart. In Binghamton, it was Double-D who often came up with the circus like catches, those eye-popping hard to believe athletic oddities that looked like impossible chances when the ball left an opposing batter’s bat. In contrast, the Lagares outfield modus operandi, although not devoid of the spectacular grab, was more about an instinctive jump on the ball at the crack of the bat and a graceful glide that often made very difficult outfield chances look almost easy.
As a former guy who loved to pitch, I used to watch B-Met games and wonder what it would be like to pitch with two guys behind you in the outfield with Lagares and den Dekker’s skill set.
A pitcher’s confidence to make certain pitches in different situations would have to soar knowing that the outfielders behind him could track a ball, make a catch and throw to a base like these guys did. I couldn’t wait to see these guys stationed together as part of an outfield trio at Citi Field some day.
Of course, stellar defensive play is only part of the major league baseball skill set. A guy has to produce at the plate, too. den Dekker and Lagares each showed offensive promise, MDD with flashes of power, but questions still remained. Both struggled some with off-speed deliveries, both were learning to master command of the strike zone, and both struck out too much. To some degree those questions remain.
My heart sunk a bit when I learned Juan Lagares suffered an intercostal strain and was headed to the disabled list. Lagares was one of the Met bright spots this season, some times a singular reason to continue to watch a baseball game. But, my spirits jumped to learn den Dekker would be taking Juan’s place on the roster until his return.
It only took den Dekker two innings in his first start to show Met fans his defensive play continues to be something special. His leaping snare of what looked to be a surefire Ryan Howard home run saving a run in the first and his gunning down a Phillies runner at the plate from centerfield in the second was the kind of outfield play we came to expect from Double-D in Binghamton.
I’m hoping Terry Collins gives Matt an extended chance to prove what he can do as a major league outfielder in Lagares’ absence. Matt den Dekker isn’t getting any younger, and it would be wise for the Mets to learn if and where he fits into their long-term planning.
With his bat blazing, the Mets have to continue to regularly play Bobby Abreu. Although a 40-year old outfielder doesn’t have a place in a long-term plan, baseball’s parity and the absence of power teams mean that even though it’s a long shot, the Mets are still in contention for a wild card spot. Abreu needs to play.
A day after his dazzling grab, MDD went 2-for-5 and scored the Mets’ only run in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at Wrigley.
Logical thinking says, that unlikely Wild Card chase or not, Chris Young has no real place in the Mets long-term thinking. Young has struggled mightily in his introduction as a Met. It would be prudent for the Mets to give Young ‘spot check’ opportunities to prove he can recover from his several season swoon, but while Lagares is gone, let’s give Double-D a sizable chunk of time to show us how he can contribute on a baseball diamond.
The kid sure won’t hurt us on defense.