It would be understandable if a player felt fairly satisfied after a second full season of pro ball, one that saw him play at two levels and reach Triple-A, while finishing the season with double digits in home runs and stolen bases. But that is not how outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis operates.
While many good things happened last season for the 2008 third-round pick of the Mets, including a Double-A Eastern League All-Star nod, 2010 left a partially bad taste in his mouth. Evidently, the 23-year-old adheres strictly to the "it's not how you start, but how you finish" philosophy when asked if he was pleased with his year.
"Not as much as I would've liked," said Nieuwenhuis, No. 4 on the Mets' Top 10 Prospects list below. "Especially the way it ended, [it] was a little bit disappointing. At the same time, it served as a motivator this offseason to get better in a lot of different areas."
The Azusa Pacific product, who was a two-sport star in high school, brought his tools and athleticism to Double-A to start 2010. After hitting .289/.337/.510 with 16 homers and 13 steals in just 94 games, the center fielder earned a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo.
Things started well enough, as Nieuwenhuis reeled off a six-game hitting streak soon after arriving, and went 11-for-32 to start his Triple-A career with a .344 average. Unfortunately, he went just 17-for-98 (.173) the rest of the way. Not one to shrink from adversity, he walked away from that experience knowing just what he needed to focus on to avoid a slide of that nature in the future.
"Just consistency and being ready to play every day," Nieuwenhuis said. "Being able to hit every day, regardless of how you feel. Day in and day out, it's the name of the game."
Nieuwenhuis hopes that, in the not too distant future, it's a game he'll be playing at the highest level. He's had a good deal of playing time in big league camp and knows that at Triple-A he'll be just the proverbial phone call away.
"It's very exciting," Nieuwenhuis said. "It's something I've always dreamed about. This year is going to be a big year. Those decisions aren't ultimately up to me. I can try and force their hand as best as I can, but that would be exciting."
Mets' Top 10 Prospects
1. Wilmer Flores, SS: Flores' best tool, by far, is his bat. After scuffling a little at age 17 in 2009, he started to figure things out last year in the South Atlantic League, earning a promotion to the Florida State League. He continued to hit in the FSL, too, and he started showing some of the extra-base ability that will continue to come as he returns to Class A St. Lucie to start the year. Although he was ranked No. 6 on MLB.com's list of shortstop prospects, most feel he won't be a shortstop long-term, but he might have enough bat to play third in the future.
2. Matt Harvey, RHP: Harvey's been on prospect radars since he was in high school, but instead of going pro back then, he went to the University of North Carolina. Three years later, he was the Mets' first-round pick (No. 7 overall) in 2010. He'll be making his pro debut this year, and it should be with St. Lucie. He's had inconsistencies with his delivery and his command in the past, but his stuff is legit, with an outstanding fastball and a plus breaking ball to go with it. He'll work on his changeup as he moves up the ladder -- something that may not take too long.
3. Cesar Puello, OF: The Mets have never shied away from pushing their young international talent to full-season ball. So, Puello went to Savannah at age 19. He started slowly, with a .638 OPS in the first half. But the speedy outfielder turned it on in the second half (.854 OPS). He finished with 45 steals to lead the organization, and many think power will come as he matures. His defense is a work in progress, though his speed allows him to outrun mistakes. He should move up to St. Lucie to start the 2011 season.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
4. Nieuwenhuis, OF: Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nieuwenhuis can do a little bit of everything on the field -- he'll hit for average, he has a bit of power and he has a little speed -- but none of the tools will jump out at you. He plays the game the right way, and his effort helps him maximize his abilities on the field. Nieuwenhuis is just about ready to help out in New York, and he'll head to Triple-A -- waiting for that call.
5. Lucas Duda, 1B/OF: Duda rode a breakout season to the big leagues in 2010, leading the system in RBIs and tying for the lead in home runs. He makes good contact from the left side and gets on base. Duda profiles best as a first baseman, but that's not going to happen with Ike Davis in his path. He's been playing the outfield, and there's a chance he'll start the season on the big league roster.
6. Reese Havens, 2B: The 2008 first-rounder has seen his progress stalled by a variety of injuries, collecting just 570 at-bats. When he's been healthy, the University of South Carolina product can hit, with his .363 OBP and .467 SLG thus far not aberrations. He should hit for some power and profiles now as an offensive-minded second baseman. If he starts back in Double-A Binghamton, he could be ready for New York soon if he can put together a healthy season.
7. Cory Vaughn, OF: Former big leaguer Greg Vaughn's kid came out of San Diego State (a fourth-round pick) and had a huge pro debut last summer, being named to the New York-Penn League All-Star team and leading the short-season circuit in OPS. He has power, some speed and fits the profile of a fairly toolsy right fielder. He's going to swing and miss a bunch, but he'll also draw some walks. He's ready for a full-season assignment.
8. Jeurys Familia, RHP: There's little question about the 2010 Futures Gamer's pure stuff. He has one of the best power arms in the system and struck out 10.2 per nine innings last year. He can crank it up into the upper-90s, but he's still largely working off arm strength. He's also just 21, so he has time to work on his command and secondary pitches, even if he has to repeat St. Lucie to start the year.
9. Jordany Valdespin, SS/2B: Another international sign by the Mets, the Dominican middle infielder has played both shortstop and second base since joining the organization in 2007. He's had his ups and downs over four seasons with the Mets, and unlike other Latino players in the system, he hasn't been pushed aggressively. He may have turned a bit of a corner last year, starting in St. Lucie and earning a promotion to Double-A before a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. If he's back in Double-A, as seems likely, the Mets will have to figure out a way to find playing time for both him and Havens.
10. Juan Urbina, LHP: The son of former big league closer Ugueth Urbina was a prize signing of the Mets in 2009 out of Venezuela. He made his debut last summer in the Gulf Coast League and got rave reviews for his arm strength and projectability. He's going to add velocity to his fastball, he has good feel for a changeup and he's working on his breaking stuff. Just 17, he'll head to a short-season team -- either Kingsport or Brooklyn -- in June.
Under the Radar
Darrell Ceciliani, OF: A junior college draftee (fourth round, 2009), Ceciliani went to short-season Brooklyn in 2010 and promptly won a batting title (.351) and made the All-Star team. He can run very well, though he needs to work on his basestealing technique. He has all the tools to be a leadoff hitter in the future and will likely be just that with Class A Savannah in the South Atlantic League this year.
Matt den Dekker, OF: A senior sign as a fifth-round pick last June, den Dekker came out of the University of Florida with a reputation as an outstanding defensive center fielder with excellent speed. A subpar junior season had people wondering about his bat, but if his pro debut was any indication, the concerns will end. The lefty hitter batted .336 over 32 total games, nearly all with full-season Savannah. If he can keep swinging the bat like that, he could move pretty quickly.
Hitter of the Year -- Vaughn
The toolsy outfielder will prove that his New York-Penn League showing was no fluke, finishing among the leaders in the system in homers and RBIs while reaching double digits in steals as well.
Pitcher of the Year -- Harvey
The first rounder will immediately show he was worth the selection, starting the year in St. Lucie, but perhaps ending it in Binghamton, and leading the organization in strikeouts along the way.