Spring training is all about competition, and there will be no better competition to watch in Mets camp than in the outfield.
Lucas Duda, who was sent down to AAA last year because of his struggles at the plate, is the only outfielder to secure a starting job. But even his role is unclear—is he the full-time starter in left, or will he platoon with a right-handed bat?
If the season were to start today, the Mets outfield would consist of all lefties—Duda in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and Mike Baxter in right.
Luckily for the Mets, the season doesn’t start tonight.
Over this past winter, general manager Sandy Alderson brought in players who will compete for the open outfield spots. Rumors will continue to swirl around Michael Bourn until he signs with a team, but this slideshow will focus on who is in camp right now.
Duda will be the starting left fielder. The Mets need him to live up to his 30-home-run potential and protect David Wright and Ike Davis in the order.
He will be this year’s X-factor. If he hits .239 again with only 15 home runs and strikes out 120 times, the Mets will struggle. To put Duda’s struggles into perspective, his WAR—wins above replacement—was -1.4, not even good enough to be considered as a substitute player.
I think he’s capable of hitting around .280 with 25 to 30 home runs and 85 to 100 RBIs. If he’s closer to those numbers than to last year’s, the Mets will stay above .500 and be competitive in the National League wild-card hunt.
2013 will be a show-me-something year for Duda. He’s not a young prospect: He’s 27 years old. With another year like 2012, he might not be able to land another starting job in the majors.
Nieuwenhuis, 25, provided a spark after his early April call-up last season. In 22 games in April, he hit .325 with two home runs, eight RBIs and 11 runs scored while posting a .475 slugging percentage. He battled deep into counts and would foul off pitches if he fell behind.
But pitchers made adjustments and started feeding him more off-speed pitches, and his numbers steadily declined. He hit .263 in May, which dropped to .238 in June and .105 in July. His on-base percentage fell from .337 in May to .281 in June to .190 in July.
Even when he was hitting well, he had a tendency to strike out. He struck out a total of 98 times in 282 at bats, nearly a third of the time.
His biggest flaw is his inability to hit versus left-handed pitching. He hit .271/.324/.416 against righties but only .180/.286/.230 against lefties. If he can’t improve on those numbers, his future will be nothing more than as a fourth outfielder or a platoon player.
Den Dekker, 25, will challenge Nieuwenhuis for the center field job. He showed enormous offensive potential in AA—.340/.397/.563, and 34 of his 81 hits went for extra bases.
But he struggled in AAA. He hit .220 with a .256 on-base percentage and a .373 slugging percentage. He struck out 90 times in 295 at bats and walked only 14 times.
The most impressive part of den Dekker’s game is his glove. He was rated by Baseball America as the top defensive prospect in the Mets’ system three years in a row. He has excellent speed and can run down balls hit in the gaps.
He and Nieuwenhuis are very similar players—good speed, good glove, left-handed bats and potential for double digit home runs—so New York will not keep both.
Den Dekker will likely start the year in AAA, where he can refine his swing and practice plate discipline. He has to cut down on the strike outs and make consistent contact before the Mets can bring him up.
In December, Alderson traded infielder Jefry Marte to the Oakland A’s for the 26-year-old Cowgill. At 5'9", he’s a small, scrappy, right-handed outfield option for the Mets.
The Mets’ Twitter page posted a quote by Cowgill:
He had 196 major league at-bats with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2011) and the A’s (2012). Last season he hit .269/.336/.317 with one home run, nine RBIs and 10 runs scored. He struck out 27 times in 104 at-bats.
Last season’s 0.3 WAR rating is the same as Mike Baxter’s (next slide), which suggests he could be a serviceable bench player. Baxter and Cowgill are similar players, but Cowgill is a right-handed hitter and two years younger.
Baxter will forever be known as the guy who saved the Mets’ first no-hitter. He became a fan-favorite after that diving, head-first crash against the wall in left field, where he literally sacrificed his health to preserve Johan Santana’s no-hitter.
But that doesn’t mean he’s an everyday player. His 211 plate appearances in 2012 were more than five times his previous career high, and last year’s WAR rating was at 0.3, which suggests he is best suited as a bench player.
He showed enough last year—.263/.365/.413 and 19 extra-base hits in 179 at-bats—to warrant a spot on the 25-man roster. He plays above-average defense and provides manager Terry Collins with a professional bat off the bench.
Brown was the first 2013 signing for the Mets. On paper, he’s exactly what the Mets are looking for—a power-hitting, right-handed outfielder.
Last year, he had 390 AAA at bats, and he hit .308 with a .364 on-base percentage and a mind-blowing .597 slugging percentage. Out of his 120 hits, 61 went for extra bases, 24 of which were home runs. He also drove in 98 runs and scored 81.
He only has 148 major league at-bats (22 with the Cardinals and 112 with the Rockies) and produced a .224 average, a .284 on-base percentage and a .396 slugging percentage with five home runs and 14 RBIs.
At 28, he’s not a young prospect, but his power potential will be attractive to the Mets and could fill a void on the 25-man roster.
The Mets signed Byrd to a minor-league deal earlier this month. He played in only 47 games in 2012, where he split time between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox. He hit only .210/.243/.245 with one home run and nine RBIs before testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. He was suspended by Major League Baseball and later released by the Red Sox and has not played in a major league game since.
He played in the Caribbean Series this past winter.
Adam Rubin reported via Twitter:
Marlon Byrd hit .222 with 6 RBIs in 27 Caribbean Series at-bats for champion Mexico. Now he vies for outfield job with #Mets.— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) February 8, 2013
Byrd is a right-handed bat, and the Mets hope he has enough miles left on his 35-year-old body to at least be a platoon player at the major league level.
Both players were signed to minor-league deals but were not invited to spring training. They will both compete to make the AAA squad and provide the Mets with organizational depth.
Neither player has appeared in a major league game since 2011.