Nieuwenhuis and Valdespin Battling For Outfield Spot

jordany valdespinThe Mets are holding conclave this spring as they seek out a center field replacement for the departed Andres Torres.

Jordany Valdespin is not an easy person to like, and especially hard to cheer for, but he’s become a leading candidate. Ask him a question and he’ll often mumble an indifferent and inaudible answer.

He exudes confidence on the field, but crosses the line with a brash attitude, tendency to showboat and not always hustle. Off the field he wears a bright red baseball cap reading “JV 1.’’ He often carries himself  with an “I own the world,” persona that goes beyond confidence, so much that manager Terry Collins has warned him to tone it down a notch.

Last year, Valdespin fell out of favor with the Mets despite hitting five pinch-hit homers. He didn’t help himself in the offseason when he was suspended in winter ball. Even so, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis out with a bruised left knee and Daniel Murphy sidelined with a strained right side, Valdespin is being given every opportunity to make the roster in the outfield or as a second baseman.

Valdespin has produced, but with a caveat: He plays to his own soundtrack.

“He plays with enthusiasm,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “He plays with a flair and, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.’’

It can be a painful thing, as over-the-top behavior, or shall we say, “showmanship,’’ angers the opposition. Collins warned Valdespin teams might retaliate against him. However, that wasn’t the case this afternoon when Justin Verlander plunked him in his following at-bat in which he homered in the 11-0 victory over Detroit.

Valdespin is outplaying both Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter, both of whom were the projected starters in center and right, respectively, at the start of spring training. Today he was at second as Murphy continues on the mend from a strained rib cage muscle.

“If they give me a chance to play, I can do the job,’’ Valdespin said. “That’s what I’m waiting for — a chance to play every day and then show everything I can do.’’

With all else being equal, Valdespin’s ability to play second base gives him the edge.

“If you’re going to be an extra player, the fact you can play a lot of positions means a lot,’’ Collins said. “But, we saw last year the fact he can come off the bench and be dangerous also.’’

Regardless of what happened last year, if he continues to produce and play hard – there has been no hustle issues this spring – it is hard to see Valdespin not landing a back-up spot in the outfield, presumably now as the reserve to Collin Cowgill in center if Nieuwenhuis doesn’t make it.

Thoughts from Joe D.

I don’t really care how brash or how cocky a player is as long as he produces on the field. To me, performance always comes first and all the other stuff is just background noise. Heck if we had worried ourselves with stuff like that back in the eighties, I doubt we would have won our last World Series in 1986. Maybe that’s what our problem has been the last ten years, too many choir boys and not enough players with brass balls…

I’ve said this before and I will say it again, there’s a catalyst-type quality about Valdespin that I love. He has a little bit of Jose Reyes in him. He brings a certain kind of electricity to the lineup when he’s in it and I get the feeling something good could happen at any moment when he’s in the game. I don’t get that with Lucas Duda or Mike Baxter or Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

If it’s true, as Adam Rubin reported, that this battle for a spot in the outfield will come down to between Valdespin and Nieuwenhuis, it’s clear to me right now who the winner of that battle is.

I’m not one of those know-it-alls who spout off every March about how spring stats don’t matter. What are they nuts? Of course they mater, and right now Valdespin is earning his place on the Opening Day roster because his performance has been off the charts and that does matter.

However, I don’t want to look at this as just a battle between Spin and Kirk. We have ten outfielders in camp and I just want to be sure that we go up North with the top five producers in camp this Spring – no matter who they are.

Nobody should have a leg up or be considered a lock at this point, especially after that embarrassing production we got from our outfield last season. That was a disgrace…

Like Terry Collins said today, “a lot things are going to happen in the next three weeks.” He’s right. So let’s just see how this plays out, and lets not make the mistake of ignoring a player who batted .375  and showing up on April 1 with a left fielder who batted .220 because he helped a little old lady cross the street this morning.

It’s time to man up, look at the numbers, and go with the hot hand. I’m not looking for five feel-good stories to fill some airtime on SNY in April. I’m looking for some big-time production, lots of attitude and plenty of moxie. If it means Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis end up in Sin City – so be it.

About John Delcos 577 Articles
I am an active member of the BBWAA and have covered Major League Baseball in several capacities for over 30 years, including 18 in New York working the Mets' and Yankees' beat. I also covered the Baltimore Orioles and the Cleveland Indians before that. Today I am a freelance writer and social director for several media outlets and a Senior Editor for Metsmerized Online.