Who should the Mets’ backup outfielders be in 2015?

By Michael Lecolant

The 2015 starting outfield appears set with Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson poised to man the corner positions, and gold glove recipient Juan Lagares patrolling center field.

It is time then, to revisit who the Mets back-up outfielders might be.

Eric Young Jr. is one of several Mets eligible for salary arbitration this winter.  Last season he earned a shade over $1.8 million. If offered arbitration, he is sure to earn near $2.5 million next season.

Clearly then, Sandy Alderson must weigh whether Young’s potential for speed at the top of the lineup is worth that price.

Despite exceeding 30 stolen bases in back to back seasons, Young does not get on base nearly enough to effectively utilize his speed.  In 191 games and 654 at-bats with the Mets, he owns a mere .309 OBP, and a .252 batting average; hardly satisfactory for a lead-off hitter.

Sandy Alderson obviously shoehorned Michael Cuddyer‘s contract into the payroll, which will likely require adjustments heading into the arbitration period.

On that front, Alderson already granted (arbitration eligible) pitchers Dana Eveland and Buddy Carlyle their free agency. Since EYJ’s potential value to the Mets as a speedster proved inconsequential, I expect him to get non-tendered.

The Main Candidates:

Lefty swinging Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 27, has toiled in the Mets system for seven years now, and may finally be nearing a breakthrough. In 57 games for Las Vegas last season, he slugged .512, and posted an .831 OPS. More importantly, he demonstrated considerable improvement at the MLB level, and may have earned a leg up on Matt den Dekker. For the Mets in 2014, Nieuwenhuis slashed .259/.346/.482 in 61 games and 112 at-bats for the big club.

Matt den Dekker, 27, also excelled at Las Vegas last season. In 93 games and 335 at-bats, den Dekker slashed .334/.407/.540, with 31 doubles, 8 home runs, and 46 RBI.  Over his five year minor league career, he owns a .289/.352/.472 slash, and as we’ve seen, his defense is above average. In 53 games and 152 at-bats for the Mets, he slashed .250/.345/.322, with 11 doubles, no home runs, and 7 RBI.

Free agent acquisition Alex Castellanos, 28, is a seven-year minor league veteran originally drafted by the Cardinals.  He also passed through the Dodgers system, and most recently played one season in the Padres system. Over 728 career minor league games, Castellanos has slashed a respectable .286/.360/.493.

Castellanos enjoyed his finest season in 2011, split between the Cardinals and Dodgers Double-A affiliates. In 475 at-bats, he slashed .320/.386/.573, with 102 runs scored, 35 doubles, 23 home runs, and 85 RBI.  Castellanos then enjoyed two solid seasons at Triple-A Albuquerque before struggling in 2014 for the Padres Triple-A affiliate.

He made his MLB debut in 2012, however, his rookie eligibility remains in tact.

On The Outside Looking In:

Cesar Puello, 23, spent the 2014 season playing in Las Vegas, where he failed to recapture the level of productivity exhibited in 2013 with Binghamton. In 105 games and 318 at-bats for the 51s, Puello slashed .252/.355/.393, with 20 doubles, 7 home runs, and 37 RBI.

Cory Vaughn, 25, generated a pair of fine seasons at Brooklyn and Port St. Lucie, but so far has failed to distinguish himself at Binghamton and Las Vegas.

Dustin Lawley, 25, completed his first full season at Binghamton. In 120 games and 447 at-bats, Dustin slashed .235/.292/.438, with 29 doubles, 20 home runs, and 69 RBI. His average and OBP clearly need to improve before earning any real consideration.

Brandon Allen, 28, was recently re-signed to a minor league contract. He was granted free agency last November by the San Diego Pares and was promptly signed by Sandy Alderson. He is an 11-year minor league veteran, with 116 games of MLB experience.

General Thoughts:

  • For the moment, it appears as if Juan Lagares will serve as the club’s leadoff hitter next season, but for how long remains to be seen. He’s not the ideal lead-off man, but after batting .281 last season, I’m optimistic his hitting will only improve. However, Lagares certainly needs to increase his walk rate. Lagares only registered 20 walks in 452 plate appearances this past season.
  • I’d love to know what particular issues Sandy Alderson harbored against Allan Dykstra, 27, that he should decide to sign Brandon Allen instead. They both swing left, they’re both first basemen, although Allen also plays some outfield, whereas Dykstra (a year younger) dual served as designated hitter. I felt Allan Dykstra at least deserved a September call-up.