2015 Breakout Candidate: Kirk Nieuwenhuis

kitk nieuwenhuis

Wouldn’t it be nice to have another offensive breakout performance in 2015 akin to what we saw from Lucas Duda this season? How amazing would it be to have back to back breakthrough seasons of that magnitude? Could the power-hitting right fielder we so desperately need already be on the roster? Is it possible?

Kirk Nieuwenhuis certainly doesn’t have Duda’s power profile, few players in the major leagues do. But Kirk does pack some power and he did hit one of the longest home runs in the majors this past season, a mammoth shot over the fence in right-center in Marlins Park. Lets take a closer examination.

Kirk started 22 games in 2014 and in those games the Mets were 18-4. Is it coincidence? Maybe, but he had an .850 OPS and played outstanding defense in that small sampling. One way or another, his performance had a positive influence on the teams play when he was in the lineup.

Nieuwenhuis made his major league debut in April of 2012, when he batted .325/.386/.475. While playing plus-defense with a strong arm, he continued to hit, posting a .297/.358/.440 line through his first 209 major league at-bats. He went into a prolonged slump in July and was sent down to work on being more productive against left-handed pitching. Unfortunately, five days later his rookie season was over due to severe plantar fasciitis.

Injuries would continue to plague Nieuwenhuis in 2013. He was carted off the field during spring training that year with a knee injury and while he did manage 14 home runs and a .809 OPS in 282 minor league at-bats, all in all it was a lost season for Kirk

Kirk followed up his forgettable 2013 by posting an .828 OPS in 2014, bolstered by .482 slugging percentage. To put that number in perspective, Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez also slugged .482, Yasiel Puig .480, and the Mets own Lucas Duda, .481. Sure it was only 112 AB, but its not like Kirk is hitting in Yankee Stadium, Coors Field or the “Homer Dome” in Toronto. The guy hit the ball hard this year, was on base at a .346 clip. Moreover, he hit .262/.350/.505 against right-handed pitching. I can assure you that we’ll most likely do worse than an .855 OPS in RF vs RHP in 2015 if we go the free agent route.

Is it possible that what we are seeing now is the hitter that Kirk really is? Is it possible that Kirk just needed some time to adjust after his season ending 2012, and subsequent injury plagued 2013 season? It’s not out of the question. We’re talking about a player who has posted a .469 slugging and .819 OPS in seven minor league seasons. Duda had a similar .461 slugging and .841 OPS in his seven-year minor league career. Nimmo is at .397 SLG and .785 OPS in his four years.

Baseball Reference had him at 1.4 rWAR in his limited playing time this season. He could at least be the left-handed bat in a right field platoon with that kind of production, or maybe more. At worst, he’s a great fourth outfielder. But if you compare the numbers, his story seems eerily similar to a slugging first baseman that just happens to play on the same team.

Why not give Kirk 100 starts in right field in 2015 and add a right-handed complement to platoon versus lefties? It could stretch our limited funds, and allow us to pony up more dollars to upgrade at shortstop or address another area of need.

At a minimum cost of $22 million for two years, do we really want to take a chance that 36-year old Michael Cuddyer can stay healthy for two seasons when his last four years suggest it’s very unlikely? Or better yet, can Cuddyer continue his production with his home field changing from Coors to Citi?

Lets just move Curtis Granderson to left field, and give Kirk a shot. If it doesn’t work out we have Nimmo knocking at the door and not that far away. Cesar Puello is another fallback option. In fact he may even be the right-handed bat to platoon with Kirk. They could form a nice combination of homegrown prospects in RF.

In the last four years, we’ve gotten much better luck and production with our homegrown players than from anyone Sandy’s brought in from the free agent market. Why stop now? Here’s to a healthy breakout season for Kirk.