One of the biggest stories and obsessions that revolved around the Mets in the offseason and has continued all throughout Spring Training is the meager-looking starting outfield. People for months have been claiming that this group will be in contention for the worst outfield group in the history of the game. I think they can be much better than the popular belief. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to say that they will produce like say the Angels outfield, Trout, Hamilton and Bourjos, or even Cleveland’s group, Bourn, Swisher and Bradley; but they will not be historically bad and can get you excited. Initially the outfield was drawn up to be Duda, Nieuwenhuis and Baxter from left to right. But as of now, it appears the group will be Duda, Cowgill/Valdespin platoon, and Marlon Byrd with some Mike Baxter sprinkled in.
First off, where was this complaining and criticism last season? Duda was there, Andres Torres was not projected to do much of anything and all Mets fans were convinced Jason Bay was playing with his eyes closed. It would have been warranted, after all Duda, who had the best year out of these three, hit .239 with 15 homeruns and 57 RBIs. Yes I understand Hairston had his best year with 20 homeruns and him being back would have aided the team as a whole, I agree with this statement, but with all the ‘Duda is gonna break out’ claims back in full swing, why do we need him? (This was Hairston’s best ever by the way – who is to say he can do it again?) Duda should make up for his 20 homeruns. Kirk after a great first six weeks or so forgot how to swing and Torres and Bay were just pathetic. Last years group was worthy of this criticism, but shouldn’t we give this new one a chance before giving the same label?
Lucas Duda has been working with Dave Hudgens to alter his swing so he can ‘stay quiet’ as the pitch is being delivered; this should help with his focus on the ball and after his initial spring struggles, he has been hitting well with 4 homeruns so far. And fantasypros.com projects Duda will hit .256/.341/.429 with 18 homeruns, 26 doubles and 70 RBIs. This essentially makes up for the loss of Hairston if he can deliver on this. Which I think he definitely can with the lesser defensive responsibility of left field. While a Collin Cowgill/Jordany Valdespin centerfield platoon in center (assuming Valdespin proves his ability to patrol centerfield) can excite the fans in a way that was missing last season. Both should hit leadoff when in the line-up for similar reasons. They both have sneaky power (3 and 4 HR respectively in S/T) and hone the speed for both the field and the base-paths. Valdespin also has a flair for the dramatic, note his first career hit – a 9th inning 3 run homerun off Jonathan Papelbon in Philly; but on the negative side he has a very wild and erratic swing that I think will hold him back from ever being an everyday player, but he can succeed in a righty/lefty platoon and I think will be productive.
Cowgill, I have heard from reports was actually a power hitter as he was moving up but was told he has to focus more on average to make it to the majors. Which he has done, but he still has shown signs of power this spring. Cowgill is definitely the superior fielder, he was actually being considered to take over the starting spot from Kirk Nieuwenhuis before he injured his knee, but he too will benefit from the platoon system. Rounding out the starting outfielders is Marlon Byrd, the 35-year-old veteran who had arguable the worst statistical season out of all players last year (.210 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI in 153 plate appearances). But this Winter Ball season, Byrd hit .308 with 16 homeruns 52 RBI and a .385 OBP, add to this reemergence his 4 homeruns during spring training and pretty solid outfield play, definitely an upgrade from Duda’s defense last year. Byrd’s play has forced Terry Collins to give him the starting right field spot and I think he will be a pleasant surprise for those fans that are pessimistic about his remaining abilities. This is all without mentioning the amazing Mike Baxter who single-handedly saved Johan Santana’s no-hitter last season and has been a nice hometown surprise for one-plus seasons so far. He is a good fourth outfielder that when not over exposed can hit well and a fan favorite.
Recapping, Duda should at the very least make up for Hairston’s production, and with him being less of a liability in left field, he may feel less pressure and dial up his offense to his true potential as a big power hitter; Cowgill and Valdepsin as a collective unit can excite the fans in a way that was missing from the line-up last year and provide solid defense and a knack for dramatics; while Byrd the clear veteran presence of the group will be a good bat in the line-up whether he hits 2nd, 6th,7th where ever it may be and will also provide a steady reliable glove. But most of all, why are we trying to defeat ourselves? Shouldn’t we all as fans give our Mets a fighter’s chance of competing? Calling our players the worst outfield ever composed is nothing but a detriment to our chances, because they will always have that thought in their heads. Remember they are human beings. The Mets starting outfield of Duda, Cowgill/Valdespin, and Byrd will not wow you with stats and their names don’t jump out at you on paper but they are major league players playing on our team, support them, pick them up when they’re down and scream loudly when they succeed. Baseball is unpredictable; you never know what a player can do.
Food for Thought – I don’t think Kirk will be on the Opening Day roster given his injury and Jordany Valdespin’s offensive emergence this spring. With Matt den Dekker on the horizon, does Kirk have any chance of being a Met in the future?