We are only just a few games into the 2013 exhibition season, but things are looking up for some of the new Mets outfielders, especially right-handed hitting Collin Cowgill. Through nine spring games, Cowgill is tied with Jordany Valdespin for the team lead in hits, with eight. So far (keep in mind we are still a month away from Opening Day) he looks like he will, at minimum, be a part of one of the platoons in the outfield. But is he something more? Is he the solution to the problems at the leadoff spot?
It has been a while since the Mets have had a true leadoff hitter. Well, it seems like a while. Since the departure of Jose Reyes in December of 2011, the Mets haven’t been able to find someone to fill in the void. Last year, Ruben Tejada got a shot at it. While he batted .293 in that slot, his .334 on-base percentage left a lot to be desired. Last year’s version of Tejada doesn’t look like a typical leadoff hitter. He was hitting a lot more line drives last year but unless he can put that together with his above-average walk rate from 2011, he isn’t going to help the Mets from that part of the lineup.
The other name that has been tossed around is Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis has hit in the leadoff spot a few times this spring. Throughout his minor league career, he typically posted an above-average walk rate but his strikeout rate has become a huge problem and at one point last year, he looked on the verge of collapse. He hasn’t hit enough to really earn the leadoff spot. So far this spring, with seven strikeouts in 18 at-bats, Nieuwenhuis has done nothing to prove otherwise. And depending on the severity of the knee injury he suffered yesterday, he may not be playing at all on Opening Day anyway.
Right now, the competition for the top spot in the lineup is wide open, and it looks like Cowgill is now a frontrunner. He has already won over the hearts of Mets fans with his hard-nosed, aggressive style of play early on in camp. And unlike Nieuwenhuis or Tejada, he has the speed to steal some bases as well.
Cowgill hit .269 in 38 games with the Oakland A’s last season, while posting a .336 on-base percentage. That’s better than both Tejada and Nieuwenhuis, even as a bench player shuttling between the majors and minors. And while Cowgill struggled in Triple-A last year with a .250 batting average (and .307 OBP) in 63 games, he has historically put up much better numbers than that. Plus, those 293 plate appearances in which he struggled are only a blip compared to the rest of his career.
In 2011 playing for the Triple-A affiliate for the D-Backs, Cowgill hit .354 with a .430 on-base percentage and 11.2% walk rate, while also knocking 13 home runs, eight triples, and swiping 30 bases. Even if you factor in the hitter-friendly parks of the Pacific Coast League, his numbers are still outstanding.
Despite Cowgill’s struggles in his 216 major league plate appearances, his resume in the minors is too much to overlook. He has been a machine his entire career when it comes to getting on base. To top it off, he can add a much-needed stolen base threat to the top of the order, something that the Mets lacked last season.
Obviously Cowgill isn’t Michael Bourn, or any of the other big-name outfielders that signed with other teams this winter, but the Mets very well could catch lightening in a bottle with him.