Kirk Nieuwenhuis delivering at the plate and in center

Nieuwenhuis doubles in the 11th

New York Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis has had quite the start to his rookie season, both at the plate and in the centerfield.  Against the Rockies yesterday the 24-year-old collected three more hits, including an opposite field RBI double into the left field corner of Coors Field that gave New York the lead in the top of the 10th inning.  Nieuwenhuis raised his season average to .316 on the year but his performance at the plate was not what most people are likely to remember about the game.

In the 5th inning Jonathan Herrera drilled a ball into the left field gap that looked to be a surefire extra base hit.  Nieuwenhuis closed on the ball like a freight train and laid out to make a great diving grab, one which went on to earn him Baseball Tonight’s Web Gem honors for Sunday.  To be hones that inning looked like it had the potential to get away from Johan Santana, who had given up a double to Chris Nelson in the previous at bat, but Kirk’s catch help the Mets ace escape unscathed.

It’s safe to say that Kirk’s overall play since replacing the Andres Torres has created a buzz around the team and Terry Collins, who mentioned before the game that Nieuwenhuis would move over to left when Torres returns to the field, may be having second thoughts.  According to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, the Mets manager wavered a bit following Sunday’s win:

Asked if he was dead set on Nieuwenhuis to left field, Collins replied: “Well, I’m going to talk to Andres, but right now I probably am. I mean, he’s been playing center all the time. And I know Kirk has also. But we’ve got to mix and match our outfield and do it with what I think may be the best lineup.”

Someone then asked Collins about Nieuwenhuis’ latest highlight-reel catch.   “They hit fly balls to left, too,” Collins dryly said. “He can make those catches out there, too.”

To me it’s pretty simple and I can only echo what Kevin Burkhardt of SNY tweeted after Kirk’s catch:

No disrespect to Andres Torres, but Captain Kirk needs to stay in CF. He’s awesome out there. What a catch!
Kevin Burkhardt

Apparently it’s not just those covering the team that are starting to take notice of the rookies play as Tracy Rigelsby of Fox Sports had a column Sunday night entitled “Mets have prize in young Nieuwenhuis.”  In the post, which you can read in full by clicking here, Rigelsby speculates as to what the immediate future may hold for Kirk, but leaves little doubt as to what he thinks of the youngster long term:

The past three weeks have allowed Nieuwenhuis to force the Mets to reconsider the idea that he would be sent back to Buffalo when Torres is activated from the disabled list, which is expected to happen when the Mets open a series in Houston on Monday.

Initially, the Mets think Nieuwenhuis can easily move to left field, where he again could share time with Hairston, filling in for Jason Bay, who went on the disabled list Tuesday with a non-displaced rib fracture.

A left-handed hitter, Nieuwenhuis gets the bulk of the at-bats in the platoon.  And when Bay returns?

“We’ll see how things work out,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “He’s made a big impression not only with what he has done (statistically) but with his approach to the game and the way he fits into the clubhouse.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype that surrounds rookies, especially in New York, but it’s Nieuwenhuis’s performance that’s creating the buzz, not his potential.  So long as that remains the case I don’t see anyway the team will send him back down to Triple-A, not when he can play a pivotal role in not only helping this team win games but put fans in the seats.  I mean look at that hair, how could he not be a fan favorite?




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