Year in Review: Mike Nickeas

By Matt Musico

Rising Apple’s Year in Review series continues as we take a look at what Mike Nickeas did and didn’t do in 2012 for the Mets. Originally, Nickeas broke camp as New York’s backup catcher to Josh Thole. After a winter of focusing on improving his swing and offensive capability, he only hit .222/.282/.389. However, it was a lot better than the .119/.136/.119 he put together the spring before. So, a better year at the plate was on its way, right? Wrong.

How He Handled the Bat

There was hope that Nickeas would be able to at least hit his weight in a reserve role in support of Thole, giving Terry Collins a viable right-handed bat off the bench that he could count on. However, in the 47 games he appeared in, spanning 109 at-bats, it didn’t happen that way; the young catcher compiled a putrid .174/.242/.229 line with 1 homer and 13 RBI, warranting the Mets to send him down to Triple-A in favor of Rob Johnson to  shake things up.

June 13, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Mets catcher Mike Nickeas (4) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. New York Mets defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 9-1. Dickey threw a one hitter complete game. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Once he was sent back down to Buffalo to play for Wally Backman and the Bisons, Nickeas finally found his swing, hitting .364/.405/.500 with 1 homer and 6 RBI in 66 at-bats. He was driving the ball much better in Triple-A than he ever did at the Big League level in 2012, as he collected three more doubles with the Bisons in half the at-bats. This huge difference in his performances can tell us one of two things- either he didn’t hit his stride with his swing until the middle of the season, or he just can’t hack it at the next level.

How He Handled the Glove

What Nickeas does behind the plate is what he’s more known for throughout the organization, as he takes pride in handling a pitching staff and working with them to call a good game. Whenever Nickeas was in a ballgame, I never doubted his ability behind the plate, it as only when he stepped up to it to hit where I started to sweat. Although he technically didn’t save runs for New York this season, his range factor per nine innings and per game increased, while his workload more than doubled from ’11 to ’12. He threw out 25% of base stealers, 2% below the league average.

Being another young catcher with Thole, he enjoyed formulating game plans with the starting staff, studying each hitter’s tendencies throughout an at-bat. There were many times where Thole would admit the plan that as used during a game happened because of the back-and-forth type of relationship they have, which I think is fantastic. This type of effort shows he’s thirsty for more knowledge and sincerely cares about how his pitchers deal with the opposition on a batter-by-batter basis.

Projected Role in 2013

Sandy Alderson has made it clear that one of the areas he will try to improve on the roster the catcher’s position. The combination of Josh Thole, Rob Johnson, and Kelly Shoppach didn’t work well, and New York needs a different player for the solution. So, for that reason, I’m projecting Nickeas to be on Triple-A at the start of next year, with him coming up to fill holes when someone is hurt or there is a situation where Terry Collins needs to carry three catchers.

Contract Status and Trade Rumors

Nickeas is under team control until he becomes a free agent in 2018, and his first year of arbitration doesn’t occur until 2015. He is coming off a one-year/$481K contract, and will continue with that kind of money until he racks up three years of MLB time. There have been absolutely no trade rumors regarding Nickeas, as no team is looking for a slightly above average defender behind the plate who has shown no ability to hit at the Major League level. We’ll see what he brings to camp for the Mets before they break for Opening Day 2013, but I’m really hoping the front office is able to bring in an external alternative that’s much more productive.