MMO Top 20 Mets Prospects – #6 Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF

Let’s go back to the June MLB Amateur Draft from 2008. With their 3rd round pick, the Mets selected a virtually unknown outfielder from Azusa Pacific University named Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Since then, Nieuwenhuis has been the model of consistency as he has steadily worked his way up to the highest level of the minor leagues. Had he not had his 2011 season end prematurely in June, as the result of a labrum injury to his left shoulder, there is no doubt he would have made his major league debut last season. With his advanced skill-set, and over 1500 minor league AB’s in his career, he is indeed very close to making a splash at Citi sometime in 2012. These are some of the reasons why he is ranked #6 on the MMO 2012 Mets Top 20 Prospects list.

After signing with the Mets, it didn’t take long for the toolsy left-handed hitter to make a favorable impression on his new team. After making a stop in Brooklyn, as a 20-year-old in ’08, where he hit .277 in 285 AB’s, he skipped over Savannah and opened 2009 in St. Lucie, A+. He picked right up where he left off the previous year and hit .274 with 16 HR’s 71 RBI’s and 16 SB’s in 482 AB’s, while putting up a .992 fielding% in CF.

The 2010 season was a big one for Nieuwenhuis, as he not only made the significant jump from high A to AA ball, but he hit the ground running at AA and established career highs in batting average and SLG%. In 394 AB’s at Bingo, he hit .289 with 81 runs, 35 2B’s, 16 HR’s, 60 RBI’s, 13 SB’s, and a .510 SLG%. This earned him a promotion to AAA Buffalo at the end of July, but he struggled his first time through the league, batting only .225 in a 120 AB’s, with 2 HR’s and 17 RBI’s.

Nieuwenhuis who has at times gone by the nickname “Captain Kirk”, did not let a little thing like AAA get in his way. He worked hard in the off-season last year, and made the necessary adjustments to succeed at Buffalo. When the 2011 season started Kirk was poised to have a huge year as the Bisons’ center-fielder, and number three hitter. Mets fans who follow the minor league system began to dream of Captain Kirk getting beamed up to Citifield and racing around the OF at warp speed for the Mets, but this was not to be. In a AAA game in late May, Kirk made a diving catch in the outfield, and injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder. At first the injury was not believed to be serious, but after several weeks, when the pain and stiffness did not go away, further tests revealed an injury to the labrum, and it was determined that surgery would be necessary, which took place in July. At the time he went down Kirk had a slash-line of .298/.403/.505, with 6 HR’s and 14 RBI’s in 188 AB’s.

Kirk was hoping to get clearance to begin “baseball related” activities by the end of November, and since it is not his throwing shoulder believes he will be ready for 2012 ST on time. If he does indeed start the season with no limitations, he will literally be ‘just an injury away’ from the call up to the Show. It’s not like he is a ready made big leaguer though, he does have some holes in his game that need to be plugged. The biggest thing Captain Kirk has to work on is to cut down on his strikeouts. He is a very aggressive hitter and as a result his K/BB ratios leave a lot to be desired. In 2008 his K/BB was 70/29, ’09 it was 127/57, 2010 132/41, and 2011 59/32. As you can plainly see he strikes out way too much, and he will have to show some improvement there if he is ever going to reach his potential.

As a fielder Kirk is very solid and has a good enough throwing arm to play RF. His speed is well above average for a baseball player, but merely average for a center-fielder, so there is still speculation about whether he can hold down the CF position on a daily basis in the bigs. I believe he can, using smarts and positioning to help counter any range limitations, but there is a distinct chance that he could wind up in RF when he reaches the Bigs. Either way, the Mets have a very useful and talented player emerging from their system, and the way the 2012 major league team is shaping up, there should be every opportunity for Kirk to come aboard, and take command.

In a report from early November, Patrick Teale at Inside Pitch had some interesting quotes from Nieuwenhuis about the severity of the injury, the surgery, the rehab and the recovery: Captain Kirk Interview

Here’s a video interview with Nieuwenhuis in January 2011, where he discusses his imminent promotion to the bigs.

More Captain Kirk video links:  Homerun vs. Kyle Gibson 4/21/11 & Great Catch from 8/25/10

Check back on Thursday when we unveil the #5 ranked player on our list!

2012 MMO Top 20 Prospects

6.   Kirk Nieuwenhuis         OF

7.   Juan Lagares               OF

8.   Wilmer Flores              INF

9.   Cesar Puello                RF

10.  Reese Havens             2B

11.  Cory Mazzoni             RHP

12.  Jordany Valdespin      INF

13.  Darin Gorski               LHP

14.  Phillip Evans              SS

15.  Jefry Marte                  3B

16.  Collin McHugh           RHP

17.  Juan Urbina               LHP

18.  Akeel Morris              RHP

19.  Michael Fulmer          RHP

20.  Danny Muno               INF