Back in camp, den Dekker sees opportunity

Back in camp, den Dekker sees opportunity

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Matt den Dekker, a proud Florida Gator, was a college classmate of Tim Tebow. So it stands to reason that he'd pay a little extra attention to how the quarterback does in the NFL.

The Mets' non-roster outfielder doesn't really remember which courses they shared. But watching Tebowmania taught him at least one lesson: Things can change quickly in sports.

Tebow, of course, started last season as a backup for the Denver Broncos. The Heisman Trophy winner replaced Kyle Orton after a 1-4 start and took Denver to the playoffs. But when the Broncos signed Peyton Manning last week, Tebow was traded to the New York Jets.

Den Dekker's version of how quickly things change was being transferred to Minor League camp eight days ago and then being transferred back Friday, when injuries to center fielders Andres Torres (left calf strain) and Scott Hairston (strained oblique) left the position up in the air. He now has at least a chance to make the team out of Spring Training.

Before the Mets' 9-4 loss to the Braves at Champion Stadium on Friday, he acknowledged the parallel.

"Exactly," the 2010 fifth-round Draft choice acknowledged. "You've just got to be ready for whatever happens. He did a great job of handling it last year. And I'm going to try to do the same thing. Wherever they put me, try to do my best and work hard.

"I was in school three years with him. I think we had one or two classes together, [but] we weren't really close. I'm a fan. He's a great player and a great guy. I've been a Gator fan forever. Football, basketball, baseball. I like to follow all those guys and see how they're doing."

Mets manager Terry Collins is impressed by the fact that den Dekker hit 17 homers between Class A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton last year. The organization believes he's capable of playing defense at the big league level right now, and will be watching closely to see how he progresses offensively. He didn't play against the Braves, but is slated to start Saturday against the Cardinals at Digital Domain Stadium.

If Torres and Hairston are unavailable for Opening Day, Collins said den Dekker is one of several options under consideration.

"He's in the mix," the manager said. "He's a legitimate consideration."

The 24-year-old is just happy to be back in big league camp.

"You want to make the most of your opportunities," den Dekker said. "Try to play the defense I know I can play and get my offensive game going. I've got a little bit of pop, and when I get to a ball, I can hit it out. But more of my game is getting on base. Last year I struck out a bunch [156 times in 539 at-bats], and I'd like to cut down on that a little bit this year. Try to get on base and let the other guys drive me in. Try to cut down my swing a little bit with two strikes. Put the ball in play and use my legs."

Den Dekker batted a combined .265 in the Minors last season while stealing 24 bases and scoring 103 runs.

In other roster news, the Mets reassigned first baseman Josh Satin, shortstop Omar Quintanilla and right-handed reliever Fernando Cabrera to Minor League camp, reducing their total number of players to 37. Of those, at least 32 still have a legitimate chance to make the team, due in large part to the injuries to Torres, Hairston, left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak and others.

With less than two weeks left in camp, 20 of the team's 25 roster spots -- barring additional injuries -- are written in ink. The club still must fill two bench spots and three bullpen jobs, with health threatening to play a significant role in that process.