In Praise of Kirk Nieuwenhuis

Is there a more important player on the Mets these days than Kirk Nieuwenhuis (well, other than David Wright)? Even aside from book-ending Thursday’s game with a lead-off triple and a game-winning hit in the ninth, Nieuwenhuis has been critical to the Mets success thus far this season.

kirkNieuwenhuis wasn’t even slated to be a part of the team this season, but after centerfielder Andres Torres went down in the opener, the Mets made the call to Buffalo. All he has done is emerge as the leading candidate for rookie of the year.

Nieuwenhuis’s .333 average leads all rookies, and is tied for eighth overall in the National League. He also leads NL rookies with two home runs. Nieuwenhuis has hit as many as 18 home runs in a season in the minors, so we can expect the homer total to rise.

It looks like he is the lead-off batter for which the Mets have been searching — his on-base percentage is .403, good for 11th in the league.

Defensively, he has made the simple as well as the spectacular plays, such as robbing Jose Reyes of a certain triple in his first at-bat back at Citi Field on Tuesday as well as the highlight-reel-for-years catch against the Giants last Friday (above).

The question of what to do with Nieuwenhuis when Torres comes back (likely in Houston next week) was answered when Jason Bay went on the disabled list. The only question now is who moves over to left. And then when Bay comes back, well, that remains to be seen.

If Nieuwenhuis is still hitting like this, it would be impossible and stupid to sit him. He is the Mets future, while Bay and Torres are obviously placeholders. Perhaps we are looking at a Bay-Torres platooning scenario, or maybe Torres moves to the bench.

Most scouts consider Torres nothing more than a fourth outfielder. Since he has played just one game with the Mets it is too early to make that determination. But one thing is clear — Nieuwenhuis looks like he is here to stay. We all better learn how to spell his name!


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