Yesterday, Terry Collins said that double-A outfielder Matt Den Dekker was a “legitimate consideration” to make the Opening Day roster. Jumping from double-A all the way to the bigs is no easy task, especially considering that Den Dekker hit just .235/.312/.426 at that level with a whopping 29% strikeout rate. However, if Andres Torres and/or Scott Hairston aren’t quite ready for Opening Day, having Den Dekker on the roster wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, especially since the Mets have made a similar move in the past.
Torres and Hairston both seem on the mend, so this discussion may turn out to be a non-issue. However, since Den Dekker was just invited back to Major League camp, the Mets brass must be at least a little concerned. After all, the other center field options (Jason Bay, Adam Loewen, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin) aren’t that appealing and Kirk Niuewenhuis might not recover from his oblique injury in enough time for Opening Day. The question with Bay, Loewen and the rest is if they can hit enough to make up for their lack of center field experience and presumably shaky defense; the answer is probably not. And then there is Den Dekker.
The University of Florida product has gained a reputation as a stellar center fielder. Whether he’ll be able to hit enough at the Major League level in the long run is up for debate, as he needs to cut down on the Ks (although he did display some surprising power last season), but that isn’t the issue which the Mets face right now. The issue at hand is that Torres and Hairston might start the season a little late and they need someone to play center, either in a starting or backup role, for a short period of time. At the same time, the Amazins need to give themselves a chance to win, and to do that, they need a quality, defensive-minded center fielder who can make up ground for Bay in left and Lucas Duda in right. Den Dekker is the player for this role.
Of course, there is the argument that offensively, he will be overmatched against big league pitching and that his development will be stunted. Will Den Dekker be overmatched? Probably. But will his development be stunted? Probably not, since he wouldn’t be playing every day and he wouldn’t be in the Majors for too long. In fact, the Mets faced a similar situation in 2010, when Jose Reyes began the season on the disabled list and the team needed to temporarily fill his roster spot. In that instance, they turned to twenty-year old Ruben Tejada, who hadn’t played a game above double-A to that point. Tejada appeared in three games before Reyes returned, starting two of them, and went one-for-six with a walk, a strikeout and was hit by a pitch. He returned to the minors and was recalled twice that year. Now he’s the team’s starting shortstop and thus far, it doesn’t seem like his development has been hindered.
The scenario for the Amazins is similar to 2010, with Den Dekker playing the role of Tejada, except he is older and has 339 fewer plate appearances at double-A. If Torres or Hairston were slated to be out for the long haul, I’d argue against Den Dekker being on the Major League roster since he does need the minor league at bats and a long-term stint in Majors could hurt him. But there is nothing wrong with him spending one or two weeks with the Mets, if need be, in order to give them a legitimate option in center field.