Fresh Apples: Kirk Nieuwenhuis
In order to build a champion, a team needs to develop talent from within. Over the past few years, many have lamented the Mets farm system, and there has been a noticeable lack of talent coming through the system as of late. However, the farm system has improved and there are talented players working their way to Flushing. In this ongoing series, Rising Apple will look at some of the Mets minor league talent. This particular Fresh Apples will look at center fielder, Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
This post might look familiar, probably because Kirk Nieuwenhuis was profiled once already by Rising Apple. But that was back in May, and things have changed for both Nieuwenhuis and the Mets since then. Still, Captain Kirk warrants mentioning because he could play some role in the team’s future.
The twenty-four year old center fielder has steadily been climbing through the farm system since he was selected in the third round of the 2008 draft. He spent ’08 at Brooklyn, ’09 between St. Lucie and Binghamton, ’10 between Binghamton and Buffalo and played all of his 2011 season at Buffalo. While manning center for the Bisons, Nieuwenhuis showed his offensive talents.
In 221 plate appearances, Nieuwenhuis hit .298/.403/.505 with six homers and 17 doubles and wRC+ of 153. His walk rate of 14.5% was the highest of his career and he clearly has the ability to hit for extra bases. There are some concerns about Nieuwenhuis though. Although he possesses a high walk rate, his strikeout rate of 26.7% is too high, and unfortunately that is par for the course during his minor league career. Furthermore, his 2011 BABIP was an unsustainable .407, although because of his high walk total, Nieuwenhuis’ OBP would probably still be respectable. Nieuwenhuis also has a pronounced righty/lefty split, and hit .320/.418/.568 vs. righties this past season while batting .254/.373/.381 against southpaws (he still got on base, but didn’t collect as many hits or hit for as much power).
Defensively, Nieuwenhuis has spent most of his time in the minors in center, occasionally playing right field as well (he’s never played left). Former Bisons Manager Tim Teufel was quotedas saying “He’s [Nieuwenhuis] deceptive. He gets to balls you didn’t think he could get to…he picks up speed as he goes.” In other words, Nieuwenhuis isn’t the speediest guy, but he can cover ground effectively.
Nieuwenhuis was probably a lock to receive a September call-up in 2011, but after injuring himself in a game on June 9th, Nieuwenhuis sat out until undergoing season-ending labrum surgery. He is expected to be back by spring training, but odds are he will begin the year at triple-A. So where does Nieuwenhuis fit in the organization’s long term plans?
One thing Nieuwenhuis has going for him is support, both from outside the organization and within. Baseball America ranked Captain Kirk as the Mets seventh best prospect heading into next season, while MLB.com had him at fifth. And in August, Paul DePodesta said he is “excited about him [Nieuwenhuis]…I think he certainly has a bright future.”
It can be argued that Nieuwenhuis’ chances of getting a crack at the Mets outfield are better now than they were last season. With Fernando Martinez perpetually injured, Captain Kirk could be the first player called up if either Jason Bay, Angel Pagan or Lucas Duda goes down with an injury (last season, Martinez was called up, and Duda replaced Carlos Beltran after he was traded). Furthermore, he doesn’t face any immediate threat coming up behind him: Matt Den Dekker needs more work at Binghamton, Cory Vaughn struggled in the second half of 2011 at St. Lucie, and first round pick Brandon Nimmo is at least three-four years away. Barring another injury, Nieuwenhuis should see Major League action in 2012.