At this point, I think everyone knows that I am a Matt den Dekker fan. I’ve argued in his favor since early spring training, when he leaped through the St. Lucie night and pulled a would-be home run from beyond the left-centerfield wall. Many Mets fans never knew who den Dekker was until that moment. That catch brought him into the limelight.
But maybe it was just one catch, people thought. If you’ve read the scouting reports on den Dekker, you would see that most will agree that he has gold glove potential. If den Dekker were to win a gold glove in a Mets uniform someday, he would only be the third outfielder in the team’s history to ever do so. The other two gold glove winner recipients in the outfield were Tommie Agee (1970), and Carlos Beltran (2006-08).
Den Dekker continued to make highlight reel catches through the spring right up until he fractured his wrist on what would have been another catch featured on ESPN’s Top Ten. The fan base has been torn on den Dekker and can basically separated into two categories—one group of fans said his offense was not good enough to be considered for the major league roster, and the other group said his defense more than makes up for his offensive woes, and he will figure it out eventually if you keep giving him at-bats.
I was really hoping that den Dekker would make the opening day roster. I felt that he could help the team win ball games with stellar defense, speed on the base paths, and pop the occasional home run. I felt the fans would rally around a player of his type—young, exciting, and balls to the wall. I recommended hitting him down in the eight hole until he figures it out, which I was convinced he would. There hasn’t been a player that I checked the box scores every time he played to see how he did in awhile. It was a feel-good story, and I was rooting for den Dekker.
I know people are down on den Dekker’s offense, but Toby Hyde’s recent evaluation of den Dekker seems a bit harsh. Here is what he had to say about den Dekker in case you missed it:
He was not a realistic candidate to make the Opening Day roster. Again, he hit .220/.256/.373 in 77 games in AAA last year with 90 strikeouts – a 28% strikeout rate. In 45 PA this spring, he was no better: .205/.222/.364 with one walk and 16 strikeouts – a 36% strikeout rate. I have lowered my offensive expectations for den Dekker from poor in the big leagues, to poor in AAA.
Everyone looks at the strikeouts as a major concern. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you don’t want a player striking out a lot. An out is an out, but putting the ball in play puts the pressure on the defense to make the play and potentially make a mistake. If you strike out a ton, you are not doing that. But for a young player I would rather see him striking out and taking pitchers deep into the count versus hitting weak grounders after swinging at the first or second pitch. And I would be more likely to accept a player with a high strikeout rate if he provides gold glove defense in a premiere position, has proven to be a decent situational hitter and maybe knock the ball out of the park every now and then. Den Dekker has nine hits this spring and seven RBI. That means the hits were productive. Just bat him towards the back of the lineup until he adjusts.
I pretty much accepted the fact that he would not be on the Opening Day roster, after I read time after time about how his offense and not being on the 40-man roster hurt his chances. Then he fractured his wrist and the reality set in that he definitely won’t be on the roster.
I say I accepted it, instead of say I supported that would-be decision, because I never truly believed that den Dekker should be sent down. Now in full acceptance, I am going through Adam Rubin’s latest roster projection and see that Kirk Nieuwenhuis is not only on his projected opening day roster, but the starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Did I miss something? He is 2-26 so far this spring. Two hits all spring and may be our starting centerfielder, but there was no chance den Dekker was making this team? I’m not buying it.
Then I scroll down Rubin’s page a little more and read that “concerned about their defensive capability in center field, the Mets are mulling carrying Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the Opening Day roster over a bona fide backup shortstop (Omar Quintanilla).” Well slap me sideways. Defense does matter after all.
After putting all those pieces together, I don’t think I am reading into this too much by saying that I believe that den Dekker did have a very good shot at making the opening day roster. Den Dekker had outplayed Nieuwenhuis in every way, shape and form this spring. Den Dekker’s bat still needs to develop, but there are three positions on that baseball field where a coach will take defense into account when making decisions—shortstop, catcher, and of course, center field. And you won’t find too many centerfielders with better defense than Matt den Dekker. Let’s hope Matt has a speedy recovery from his wrist injury, so we can see this rare talent roaming the green pastures at Citi Field soon.