Tag: kirk nieuwenhuis

The Fourth Outfielder

I keep reading in various places that the Mets have earmarked a portion of their meager winter budget for a fourth outfielder. If this is true, why?

It’s pretty much been established that the 2011 season will not be one seeing the Mets fighting for a playoff spot. Call it “rebuliding”, “assessing and evaluating”, “reconstructing”, or whatever you wish — the bottom line is that the team is not making a conscious effort for the short-term, and is only in the nascent stages of the long-term plan. That said, why would there be any concern about acquiring a fourth outfielder — even if it is low on the list of priorities?

Moreover, don’t the Mets already have a fourth outfielder somewhere in their system? Unless something changes between now and opening day, the starting outfield will consist of Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, and Jason Bay. None of these three men need a defensive replacement in the late innings, and none are likely to be lifted for a pinch-hitter in any situation, either. Beltran is the only of the three who may require regular rest; if he’s the starting centerfielder, Pagan will slide into his spot on those days and a the “fourth” outfielder will step into a corner.

Now that we’ve established the regular routine, what do the Mets need from that fourth outfielder?

Ideally, he’s someone who can provide some power on the days Beltran (or Bay) is absent from the lineup. It would help, but is not necessary, if he can cover all three outfield positions; if Pagan turns out to be the starting centerfielder, both Bay and Beltran are capable of handling CF when Pagan needs a break. Additionally, this extra outfielder should also be a potentially strong pinch-hitter. In reality, the Mets probably are best suited with not only a fourth outfielder but a fifth one as well — but that “fifth” would also be versatile enough to handle an infield position (or catch) and have a slightly different skill set (i.e., hit from the opposite side, provide speed if the other has power, etc.).

Taking a cursory look at the Mets 40-man roster and high-level minor leaguers, there are several candidates to fill these roles:

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The Problem with Prospect Rankings

I have been following Amazin Avenue’s Community Prospect List. It appears that Kirk Nieuwenhuis has emerged as the consensus number-two prospect in the system behind Wilmer Flores. I am not saying I disagree with the ranking, but I will say, if accurate, it is more a testament to the weakness of the Mets farm system, than it is a fair reflection of Nieuwenhuis’s talent, which really would not be number-two worthy in most organizations.

I really brought this up, though, because I find it interesting how Sean Ratliff, who profiles very similarly to Nieuwenhuis, has yet to appear on the list (AA is voting on number eight, and Ratliff is sixth in the voting for that spot last time I checked), and people still shy away from calling him a top-ten prospect. In fairness, Nieuwenhuis has a lengthier track record of success, while Ratliff, aside from his two-and-a-half months in Binghamton, was a non-prospect.

If you compare their production with AA Binghamton, however, there is no comparison. Ratliff has vastly outperformed Nieuwenhuis:

Ratliff: 272 PA .332/.379/.614/.993 OPS. .426 wOBA .275 ISOP 7% BB% 23.5% K%

Nieuwenhuis: 430 PA .289/.337/.510/.371 wOBA .220 ISOP 6.7% BB% 21.6% K%

Yes, Nieuwehuis has a larger sample size, and for what it’s worth he is six months younger than Ratliff, but I do not think either of those facts compensate for an over 50 point disparity in wOBA, or an almost 150 point difference in OPS. Nieuwenhuis has also struggled mightily since being promoted to Buffalo (.195/.264/.329 in 91 PA).

Also, while his strikeout rate has remained on the high-end during his time in Binghamton, check out Ratliff’s walk rate over that span:

June (67 PA): 3%

July (123 PA): 4.1%

August (82 PA): 14.6%

The dude basically went from Jeff Francoeur to Adam Dunn in a month. I am guessing that has a lot to do with the fact pitchers are finally pitching around the new and improved Ratliff, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Both players are regarded as athletic outfielders, that may or may not have the range to stick in center field.

It is difficult to rank the Mets farm system. I think Reese Havens and Zach Lutz are far superior to Ratliff and Nieuwenhuis when they’re on the field, but neither of them has proven they can stay healthy. Duda is the best pure hitter of the bunch and has stayed healthy, but he is also probably a below average corner outfielder. You could make a real radical statement and say Darrell Ceciliani or Aderlin Rodriguez is the best of the bunch, but they carry with them a lot of downside. Then you have to factor in pitchers like Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey, and suddenly you have nine guys with no obvious advantage over each other.

And that is the problem with rankings. They add the illusion of distinction when, sometimes, as in this case, none is warranted. At the same time, that is what makes it fun, challenging, and let’s face, gives it real world pertinence. Out of the nine, one might blossom into a superstar, one or two of them might pull a Brad Holt next year, and you wonder why they were ever considered prospects in the first place, and the rest will end up in between. As a general manager, most of them are your trade chips, and you have to remember prospects get you fired, lest you end up looking like Steve Phillips.

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