Brian ErniIn a must-read report for the Wall Street Journal, Tim Marchman says Kirk Nieuwenhuis personifies the Mets.
“Like Nieuwenhuis, the Mets are fairly young and flawed in obvious, not easily correctable ways,” Marchman says.
It’s true, there are intriguing parallels. Much like the Mets, Nieuwenhuis got off to a hot start to 2012 before becoming a non-factor in July. Like most of the roster, he doesn’t have a lengthy track record, nor the star power of other NL East players.
But, Marchman adds, the correlation is not necessarily a bad thing:
“Last year, Nieuwenhuis hit .252/.315/.376, so that his OPS+—on-base plus slugging percentage, adjusted for park and league effects and indexed to 100—was 91. Over the last three decades, 13 center fielders have hit within five points of that either way over at least 300 plate appearances at age 24. At the top of the class, you have real stars such as Andruw Jones and Ray Lankford, who might have made the Hall of Fame if things had gone a bit differently. At the bottom, you have useful role players like Chad Curtis and Corey Patterson. In between are the likes of Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson.”
So that begs the question: where will Captain Kirk ultimately fall on the spectrum?
I think somewhere in the middle. Like most 25-year-old players, Nieuwenhuis has holes in his game. But last year, when things were going well, he showed the ability to make quick adjustments; sometimes over the course of a game, others in the middle of an at bat. That’s key to his overall development: can he recognize how pitchers are trying to get him out, and take action to combat it?
A microcosm of Nieuwenhuis’ season was his hitting with runners in scoring position. After a strong start, Nieuwenhuis’ overall line didn’t end up pretty (.174/.234/.203). That makes sense. In those situations, pitchers don’t want to give in. They’ll try to get a batter to hit their pitch first. If the batter is patient enough, he’ll get his pitch to hit. When Kirk found himself in these situations, he may have been overanxious to produce, and extended the strike zone. That made him susceptible to chase, and he ultimately fell victim to it.
This is all to say: I think there’s plenty left to Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ story. With the high expectations and fan’s familiarity with a prospect before he plays a Major League game, New York can be a tough place to develop as a position player. Even though 2012 was an uneven season, Nieuwenhuis has a strong body of work to build on. How far he can take it will rely on him.