Michael Baron, ContributorMatt den Dekker is a magnificent center fielder. He has demonstrated it on several occasions this spring, last spring, and throughout his professional career. He is a human highlight reel out there, and is very fun to watch. He has taken advantage of Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ injury this week – den Dekker has gotten a lot of playing time in Nieuwenhuis’ absence.
Here’s the thing: does den Dekker’s tremendous defense alone make him the best option in center field? This is a lineup which could struggle to score runs; the Mets need to find as many ways as possible to limit the damage and save runs from the opposition, and den Dekker’s defense could go a long way towards accomplishing that. In addition, he could help cover ground and make up for the questionable defense from Lucas Duda in left field, and whomever is manning right field – that is an underrated quality which is not always talked about, yet it’s crucially important.
The issue with den Dekker is his bat, and whether or not he can cut down his strikeouts. He does hit for power, and has done so at every level he has played at after an adjustment period. But the strikeouts have been a problem for den Dekker at every level, and that could ultimately sink him at the big league level.
Dave Hudgens has been working closely with den Dekker this spring to track and better identify pitches, and adjust off the pitches in the weak part of his hitting zone. Still, den Dekker had seven strikeouts in 20 at-bats coming into Grapefruit League play today, so it’s clear he still has work to do. But, the Mets could choose to roll the dice with his bat and hope it comes around with the expectation he will shore up an outfield which has a ton of questions, and not many answers.
There are other challenges with promoting den Dekker, besides his offense. He isn’t on the 40-man roster, and the Mets are already in a position where they’re going to have to make some tough decisions to add guys like Marlon Byrd, Omar Quintanilla, Greg Burke, Latroy Hawkins, Pedro Feliciano and Scott Atchison to the roster. The reason for that is they’ve had to add a lot of guys to the 40-man roster over the last few seasons so to protect them from the Rule 5 draft (Wilmer Flores, Zack Wheeler, Darin Gorski, just to name a few). Adding den Dekker for Opening Day could present a problem the Mets simply don’t have a solution to right now.
That doesn’t mean the Mets won’t find a way to promote den Dekker if he ultimately earns it, but it seems as though one of the biggest problems is there simply might not be any room for him right now.
Hat tip to SNY’s Peter Wade for the image.