As we round out our player by player year in review pieces, it’s time to take a look at how Kirk Nieuwenhuis fared in 2012. After Andres Torres injured himself on Opening Day, Kirk was summoned from AAA Buffalo to make his Major League debut. Here’s how things went:
How he handled the bat:
Nieuwenhuis came out of the gate hot, hitting .325 in April, before his average dipped to .263 in May. At that point, he had already shown his knack for coming through in big spots -sprinkling in a bunch of game breaking hits – and the growing pains were accepted. As his season went on, Nieuwenhuis’ propensity for strikeouts caught up with him, and his offensive production lagged to the point where it became untenable for him to remain on the roster. His average dropped to .238 in June and .105 in July, before he was sent back to the Minors. An injury cut Kirk’s season short after he arrived back in Buffalo. In order to be more than a 4th outfielder in the Majors, Nieuwenhuis has to cut down his strikeouts, while improving his ability to hit left handers (whom he hit .180 against in 2012).
How he handled the glove:
Aside from one not so memorable clank off his glove, Nieuwenhuis’ defense was very good in both Center and Left field. His value will clearly be highest if he can remain a Center Fielder, and Kirk did nothing to hurt his chances of remaining there. He’s a big dude, and lacks blazing speed. However, he showed very good instincts, an average arm, and made a number of tremendous plays during his time with the Mets. He’s an all out type of player, not afraid to smash into the wall or launch himself through the air in pursuit of fly balls. Some scouts believe he profiles better as a corner outfielder, but his defense was clearly better than that of Andres Torres (whose glove was viewed by scouts as plus) in 2012, and he passed the eye test in Center.
Projected role in 2013:
With the uncertainty in the Mets’ outfield, it’s likely that Nieuwenhuis will be a part of the 25 man roster coming out of Spring Training. The Mets haven’t yet decided whether or not to offer arbitration to Andres Torres, but common sense says they won’t. Jordany Valdespin is incredibly raw both offensively and in the outfield, so he shouldn’t be an option at this point. That leaves the main in house options as Kirk and Matt den Dekker. den Dekker struggled after being promoted to AAA, and is probably not ready to contribute at the Major League level. Like Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker hits left handed, so it’s not clear whether or not the Mets will have a place for both of them on the roster when the time comes (especially taking into account their already lefty heavy lineup). At the very least, I’d expect Nieuwenhuis to be part of the Major League bench coming out of Spring Training. If Torres isn’t offered arbitration and the Mets don’t acquire a Center Fielder from outside the organization, Kirk will likely slot in there on Opening Day.
Contract status and trade rumors:
Nieuwenhuis made the Major League minimum in 2012, and won’t be arbitration eligible for quite some time. He’ll be 26 years old in 2013, so the time to carve out a spot for himself is now. With the Mets’ lack of outfield options, combined with a steep drop in production as his 2012 season went on (along with his season ending injury), I don’t see why the Mets would look to deal him. He can’t have much value on the market, and the Mets are in dire need of outfielders. Look for him to remain with the club.