Before the start of the 2012 season, I looked at the career minor league statistics of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, read some scouting reports, and surprised myself by concluding: Maybe this guy could grow up to become an acceptable Major League center fielder. Not a star, but okay enough.
I don’t know that I was wrong about that. But his misadventures last year have certainly given me pause. What I read into his minor league stats was a flawed hitter with way too many strikeouts. (Not that strikeouts in and of themselves are so terrible, but that KKKirk’s K’s seemed like signs of deeper problems, indicators that come the big leagues, he’d struggle, maybe forever.) Kirk had no burning speed, an unspectacular BA, but a decent BB rate. What I most liked, though, was that he showed some real pop. In 2010, across a full season of AA and AAA, he stroked 64 XBH in 514 ABs. If the defense was good — and this was mandatory — Kirk’s overall skill set seemed to me like it could survive in the bigs. Not an All-Star, nothing great, but not everybody has to be. I figured an .800 OPS was attainable for Kirk, though not immediately, and that it was a good enough number for a CF.
I really can’t talk about Nieuwenhuis without mentioning that I have a big problem with him. His name. I just can’t spell it. It always comes out wrong. I am very sympathetic to that, as people have been spelling my name wrong my entire life, even though it is only four letters. So I really want to get it right. But it’s very hard, I never do. Then I have to check it, and spell it over, then re-check it.
And now — we have this blog. So when I think about it, it might be for the best if Kirk just flames out and goes away. Nothing personal.
Mike, we survived Mientkiewicz, we can survive this. (BTW, I just typed that without looking it up, but I did sprain my ring finger.)
Now for what I think of him as a player. Major leaguer, sure. Starting major leaguer? Don’t think so. When I look at Nieuwenhuis, nothing jumps out. Power, sure some. Speed, better than average but not real speed. The ability to hit for average, I don’t see that with all those K’s. Defense? Again, not bad but he’s no Den Dekker. I add up the sum of Kirk’s parts and I get a solid fourth outfielder.
As for the strikeouts. Things shifted a little bit in the second half, but in the first half of the season it seemed like every Met took two strikes before ever swinging the bat. It was so obvious that they might as well have gone went up there without bats first and see if they got walked. Nobody was using them, why waste the effort of lugging them to the plate? It’s a long season.
So sure we might have assembled a collection of lookers, but it was so dramatic that there had to be an organizational edict. Don’t swing or else! And it worked for a while, we outperformed our collective talent for half a season, in large part by getting to teams’ crappy bullpens.
But baseball is a game of adjustments, and those are harder for young players. And in Kirk’s case (sorry, from here on out I’m going first name basis), teams were just going down the middle, strike one, down the middle, strike two. How do you hit like that? In Bud Harrelson’s book, Turning Two, he mentions that although he was a weak hitter he would take 3-2 against God. Well, when you are 0-2, every pitcher is God.
So I think the single biggest thing Kirk needs to do in 2013 is swing earlier in the count. If he has any eye at all (the big question), his OBP will not go down. It will go up.
Agreed. Put simply, if the goal is to work deep counts, you are going to face a lot of two-strike situations, and that leaves you vulnerable to the strike out and, more importantly, forces a batter to confront a lot of very tough two-strike pitches darting out of the zone. A strikeout isn’t the end of the world, but Kirk should mix it up more. Swing early, aggressively. His power numbers would rise, I bet. Sometimes I worry that the organizational focus on working counts works against some hitters, serving only to confuse them further.
Team-wise, the Mets have several glaring offensive weaknesses, and Kirk embodies two of ‘em: 1) Can’t hit LHP; 2) No speed. Actually, speed goes two ways, which is why Branch Rickey was such a fanatic about it. Speed helps you on offense and defense, it’s two skills in one. Kirk’s speed isn’t terrible, but it’s not a weapon, either. Generally, teams are going to get speed from four positions: SS, 2B, CF, and one of the OF corners (let’s assume one lumbering slugger in the far pasture). You look at this current group — Tejeda, Murphy, Nieuwenhuis, Baxter — and wonder if we are ever going first-to-third on single or cut-off a double in the gap. It’s why I can’t fall in love with any of these players. Look at our home field. I don’t think RH power will ever thrive in that park. I feel a need for a speed. Where in the world is it coming from?
I can’t agree with you yet on RH power not being able to work out at Citifield. Before the changes, absolutely. But the biggest changes were in left field, it was dramatic, both dimensions, and fence height. Hairston did well last year, and Wright had an excellent season. Unless you count Bay, and I do not, there wasn’t another right-handed hitter with any power on the roster.
I would agree with you completely though that Citifield will never play “small” and that speed would be a great asset for us to value. Where is it now? It’s not on the current roster, that is for sure. And I could go on about that, and actually I intend to very soon, but not today as I do not want to completely hijack Captain K’s post. So quickly back to Nieuwenhuis (got it).
If he is ever going to be a full-time outfielder the power has to totally develop. Otherwise, I’m not going to have to worry about how to spell his name for too long.