New York Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Kirk New…I am just going to keep referring to him as “Kirk” because it is probably one of the most, if not THE most, difficult names to spell that the Mets have ever had.
Kirk was a player who was publicized as this super athletic talent coming out of some college called Azusa Pacific University in California. He led the team to back-to-back NAIA College World Series appearance and set some school records along the way. He was not heavily recruited but the Mets grabbed him as a third round pick of the 2008 Major League draft.
His overall talent, with a combination of speed and power, made him a perfect centerfield prospect, with the Mets sensing another “five-tool” player on the horizon.
Following a successful campaign at Buffalo in 2011, Kirk was added to the Major League 40-man roster and had a successful debut when called up in April of 2012 following injuries to Mets outfielders. He caught fire and was hitting .297 and playing great defense into the month of June. But, similar to a situation that would later happen to another left-handed hitter, Michael Conforto, he was sent up to bat to face some of the League’s toughest lefties. Not ready for those match-ups, Kirk went into a funk, a prolonged funk, and hit only .123 the rest of the year over the next month, looking like a completely different player. He was optioned to the minors on July 30. Only days later, he tore a plantar fascia in his foot and had to be shut down for the rest of the season.
Over the next three seasons, Kirk was up and down from Triple-A Buffalo like a yo-yo. And, during his time with the Mets, and for some inexplicable reason, he would be sent up to face tough lefthanded pitchers, even when HE was pinch-hitting for somebody else. I can understand when doing that in the minor leagues to get some experience and at-bats, but in the Major Leagues against the toughest lefthanders you could ever face? Made no sense.
Finally, after struggling and having no role in the early part of 2015, Kirk was designated for assignment and traded to the Los Angeles Angels. In a bizarre twist, a mere 17 days later, Kirk was claimed by the Mets off waivers from the Angels. After an initial stint with Triple-A Las Vegas, Kirk was promoted back to the Mets on July 6 and, six days later, he hit three home runs in one game at Citi Field against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He added a pinch-hit, go-ahead home run off the Nationals’ Jonathan Papelbon in a crucial September game, giving the Mets an 8-7 lead after they had trailed 7-1.
Although he played a significant role during the World Series season of 2015, albeit strange the way it unfolded, Kirk was put on waivers and claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers after the season.
Kirk won the Brewers centerfield job in 2016 and hit 13 HR with 44 RBI in only 335 at bats, but his average was only .209. Strangely enough, he was given a one-year, $900,000 contract for the 2017 season but cut three weeks into the season. He hooked on with the Seattle Mariners organization prior to the 2018 campaign but was released midway through the season. Kirk even toiled for part of the 2019 season with the Long Island Ducks but made the decision to retire just weeks into the season.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis had all the tools – power, speed, arm, and, most of all, old-fashioned, hard-nosed hustle. So what happened? Was he a failure? Or did the Mets fail him by mishandling his development? Was he an anomaly who could somehow launch three home runs in a single game but couldn’t survive Major League pitching on most other days? Or did he get messed up when he was asked to, as a young lefthanded hitter, go up and face the toughest southpaws in the Major Leagues? Did the Mets do another number on the fans with the overhype of a young player?
I find it hard to believe that a guy with that much athletic ability could be that much of a flop.