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This season the New York Mets want to find out if youngsters Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, and Josh Thole can handle regular duty at the major league level, and one can add another name to that group now in outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis, 24, was called up from Triple-A Buffalo Friday after the Mets placed starting center fielder Andres Torres (calf) on the 15-day disabled list.
Nieuwenhuis the new leadoff man?
A decent athlete, Nieuwenhuis is expected to split starts in center field over the next two weeks with veteran Scott Hairston. In 2011, Nieuwenhuis enjoyed a breakout season by hitting a career-best .298 with six home runs, 14 RBIs, five steals, and a .908 OPS in 188 at-bats with Buffalo. However, the 6-foot-3, 215 pound outfielder had his fine season cut short due to a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.
During his injury-shortened season, Nieuwenhuis made considerable strides in his plate discipline by improving his walk rate by averaging a free pass every 6.9 plate appearances in 2011 after averaging a walk once every 13.8 plate appearances in 2010. The improved walk rate was a significant occurrence given that Nieuwenhuis has always been a strikeout machine who has averaged a whiff every 3.87 at-bats during his minor league career.
Blessed with slightly above-average tools, Nieuwenhuis projects as a versatile fourth outfielder who can play all three spots, can drive the ball (43 doubles and 18 homers in 2010) and run a little (reached double-digits in steals every year from 2008-10). There are scouts that feel Nieuwenhuis can be a regular, but the left-handed batter will need to enhance his hitting versus southpaws. Although he doesn't project as a batting average hitter, the Azusa Pacific alumnus can make up for his lack of high-percentage hitting if he sustains his on-base gains from last season.
There's a strong likelihood that Nieuwenhuis will be optioned to Buffalo once Torres returns, but don't expect him to stay in the International League for long. Nearly ready, Nieuwenhuis is on pace to be a big part of the Mets' major league plans by the second half. He is worth a look in NL-only setups, deep mixed leagues where part-timers have value, and keeper formats.
A fast riser in the Tigers system, Drew Smyly beat out more well-known hurlers Jacob Turner, Andrew Oliver and Casey Crosby for the fifth spot in the rotation in this spring.
Because the Tigers didn't need him during their first go-around through their rotation, Smyly made his Triple-A debut last Saturday and the southpaw couldn't make it out of the second inning. Pitching 1 2/3 innings against Indianapolis, Smyly allowed three runs (three earned) on three hits and two walks, while striking out one. He threw 50 pitches, 30 of them for strikes.
Smyly is expected to start the Tigers' April 12 game versus the Tampa Bay Rays later this week. Now that Tigers No. 2 starter Doug Fister (left side strain) has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, Smyly has probably a longer leash than he did when he was initially named fifth starter.
A 2010 second-round pick out of Arkansas, Smyly enjoyed a smooth transition to pro ball in 2011, compiling a 11-6 record, 2.07 ERA and a 130:36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 126 innings between low Class-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.
A polished pitcher, the 22-year-old lefty is similar to Oakland Athletics rookie starter Tom Milone. With a fastball that sits in the high 80s to low 90s on the radar gun, Smyly doesn't have ideal fastball velocity, but he is able to compensate by hitting his spots with it and attacking batters with an assortment of secondary pitches, which includes a cutter, curveball, slider, and straight changeup. Although his curveball and slider are the most highly regarded offerings in his repertoire, neither one is considered a major-league-quality out pitch.
Smyly is a close-to-finished product who knows how to pitch and has a bright future, but his lack of Triple-A experience and underwhelming arsenal make him a risky short-term play in AL-only formats.
Washington Nationals third base prospect Anthony Rendon suffered a badly sprained left ankle in a Saturday night game with high Single-A Potomac of the Carolina League. He did not play Sunday at Lynchburg. When the swelling goes down, the Nationals will have a better idea of his timetable to return.
Selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Rendon was considered by many to be the best hitter in his class. However, he dropped to the sixth pick because of an injury history that included a strained throwing shoulder in 2011 and two significant injuries to his right ankle in 2009-10. Fortunately for Rendon, this injury involves his left ankle, but he still can't seem to get over the injury bug, which has kept the talented slugger from maximizing his abilities on the field.