Just before Opening Day, Terry Collins announced the starting Mets outfield would be Lucas Duda, Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd — no platoons, as expected. Funny how a little more than a week into the season, those plans have changed. It’s also funny because those three are the ones who should NOT be starting.
It has become clear to just about everyone that Jordany Valdespin should be in the lineup every day. He is hitting .400 in limited action (15 at bats) and is a spark whenever he is on the field. He is also quickly becoming competent in the outfield.
A case can be made for Mike Baxter playing regularly. He is hitting .364 in 11 at bats, but he also has five walks for a .563 on base percentage (the team average is .346). The guy just knows how to get on base. He also a halfway decent fielder.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis is only hitting .182, but he is smooth in center field. He showed early last season that he has the ability to hit; hopefully he can get back to that.
Now to the actual starters. After going three-for-four with two home runs on Wednesday, Duda actually has good numbers for the season, batting .308 with three homers (he was hitting .227 before the game). But this is the best we can expect from Duda — several games of mediocrity followed by a brief outburst of power. There is just no consistency there. And he is somehow getting worse in the outfield.
Collin Cowgill had a good first game, but has not been particularly good since. He is fine defensively, but he is batting .130 with three hits. Two of them are home runs, which is his only positive.
Marlon Byrd also jumped off to a good start, but he is now hitting just .250, with nine strikeouts in 28 at bats. He also looks very shaky defensively.
So who should be in the Mets outfield? An outfield of Valdespin, Nieuwenhuis and Baxter probably has the most potential. However, as long as Duda is on the team, he’s got to start. Until Nieuwenhuis remembers how to hit, he should be in a platoon with Cowgill in center. And Valdespin should start in right. Baxter is probably best suited to being a fourth outfielder and pinch hitter, where he excels. He might be good enough to start on this particular team, but I think he might be exposed if he plays every day. Byrd’s best days are behind him.
Whatever the Mets do, they must get Valdespin in the lineup. He’s the most explosive player on the team.