Matt den Dekker is an exceptional defensive player
There are less than two weeks of spring training remaining for the New York Mets with several important roster decisions still remaining for manager Terry Collins and his brain trust.
Opportunities abound in Port St. Lucie, including in the outfield, the bullpen and on the bench. Even so, there are still only going to be 25 players heading north at the end of March and there will be some impressive names left behind.
David Wright's injury may open the door for an opportunity in the infield, but Collins is still going to have to demote or cut some talented players before the Mets open their 2013 campaign on April 1 against the San Diego Padres.
Here are four players who will be tough to leave behind for the Mets.
Brian Bixler, a Sandusky, Ohio native, is no youngster anymore. He's 30 and is not on the Mets' 40-man roster, signed only to a minor league contract.
It is time for Bixler to prove he's worthy of heading north and he has taken advantage of that opportunity by hitting .308 with two home runs and six RBI through 14 games this spring.
A four-year major league veteran with the Pirates, Nationals and Astros, Bixler has primarily played at second base in camp, but has also logged some time at shortstop and third base, and looks like a scrappy, versatile player.
If Daniel Murphy's strained intercostal injury persists, Bixler would be a difficult cut or demotion for manager Terry Collins to make.
The University of Florida product has already provided ESPN with a few Top-10 highlight reel catches so far this spring.
In fact, den Dekker is starting to remind folks of a young Jim Edmonds, the eight-time Gold Glove winner, with his defensive play, speed and athleticism.
Mets outfield coach Tom Goodwin is impressed with how well den Dekker can flash the leather.
“From the first day I saw him, he’s reminded me of (Jacoby) Ellsbury—their body types and the way they can go get the ball,” Goodwin told Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. “I think he has a stronger arm than Jacoby has, but both of them can run. He’s a difference-maker out there in center field.”
The issue is den Dekker's bat. Through his first 13 games in Grapefruit League play, the 25-year-old was batting just .226 with one HR and three RBI. He batted .340 last season, but that was for Double-A Binghamton. Still, the Mets like his potential at the plate.
Even though den Dekker is a non-roster invitee, his defensive prowess in late-game situations must give Collins pause about whether he'd like to take the talented southpaw north with him.
Veteran southpaw Aaron Laffey is enjoying a terrific spring training, going 1-0 without having allowed an earned run in eight innings of work.
Laffey has five years of major league experience under his belt and although his career ledger isn't overly impressive—he is 25-29 with a 4.38 ERA with Cleveland and Toronto—he can start or relieve, which adds needed versatility for New York.
Another non-roster invitee, Laffey could provide Collins with another option in the starting rotation if Johan Santana remains sidelined for an extended period or if current fifth starter Jeremy Hefner falters. Since he's not on the 40-man roster, Laffey is far from being guaranteed a spot on New York's Opening Day roster, but he has really opened some eyes in Florida.
Laffey is scheduled to start Wednesday's game against the Astros.
“I think they know what I can do,” Laffey told Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. “I’ve been in the big leagues for over four years now. It’s just nice to get out there and throw multiple innings.”
The more innings he throws, the better impression he makes.
The centerpiece in the R.A. Dickey trade, Travis d'Arnaud is slated to start the 2013 campaign with Triple-A Las Vegas, although he should not be there for long because he looks ready for the majors.
The 24-year-old d'Arnaud has enjoyed an excellent spring training, not only having handled the Mets' pitching staff well, but also hitting .308 with a pair of RBI and an OBP of .387 in a dozen games.
d'Arnaud has also belted three doubles and scored five runs while displaying a strong arm and looking like a fine defensive backstop.
"I feel like I’m close to where I need to be, but until they tell me I’m on the team, I’m not finished." d'Arnaud told Dan Martin of the New York Post.
It shouldn't be long until d'Arnaud takes up permanent residence in Flushing, N.Y. Although he should be in Triple-A for just a short time, it has to be very tempting for manager Terry Collins to make him a part of the Opening Day roster.