Den Dekker making most of opportunity with Mets
Published: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 12:09 a.m.
NEW YORK — Matt den Dekker is adjusting to life in baseball’s biggest market.
The former Florida Gator turned New York Mets outfielder took a few good-natured jabs in the clubhouse in stride. As clubhouse attendants reminded den Dekker about his alma mater’s loss to Georgia Southern in football last season, the soft-spoken Fort Lauderdale native offered no retort. For den Dekker, the focus is on the rest of the 2014 season and chance to show he’s an everyday Major League Baseball player.
“It’s a pretty big opportunity for me and it’s pretty important for my career,” den Dekker said. “I’m just trying to stay relaxed and do what I can. … You don’t want to try to go out there and be the hero and try to do too much. You just want to go out there and try to play your game.
“I know I can play the game well and just want to prove that.”
The Mets recalled den Dekker from Las Vegas on Aug. 10, a day shy of his 27th birthday, after a blistering stretch in Triple-A. Den Dekker was batting a Pacific Coast League-best .334 at the time of his promotion.
The left-handed hitting den Dekker is platooning in left field with Eric Campbell. Since his call-up, den Dekker entered Tuesday night batting .280 (7-25) with two RBIs and a stolen base.
“I think the fact that he’s changed his stance at the plate a little bit has helped him get the bat to the ball better,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “The barrel of the bat stays above the baseball a lot longer than it used to ... he’s done a nice job working on that.”
Den Dekker credited the improvement to a shorter swing. The confidence of hitting the bell well in Triple-A also helped.
“The way I was swinging the bat just gives me some confidence to try to come in here and do the same thing I was doing there,” den Dekker said.
Defensively, it’s surprising to see den Dekker in left field, considering all the highlight-reel catches he made in center field throughout his Gator career. The most notable was an over-the-shoulder, Willie Mays-style catch that den Dekker made in the 2010 College World Series during a loss to UCLA.
But the Mets have another Gold Glove-caliber center fielder in Juan Lagares. When Lagares was on the disabled list in early June, den Dekker was called up by the Mets and played center field, robbing Ryan Howard of a home run with a catch over the center-field fence in a game against the Phillies.
Together, den Dekker and Lagares cover plenty of ground.
“I’ve felt fine in left field,” den Dekker said. “It’s a little bit of an adjustment just in reads off the bat, but I’ve adjusted to it and having Juan out there, he’s a really good outfielder. It’s fun to be out there playing with him.”
How long den Dekker stays with the Mets (or in the big leagues) could depend on his plate discipline going forward. The knock on den Dekker throughout his professional career has been his high strikeout rate. He has a tendency to chase breaking balls out of the strike zone, though in a recent weekend series with the Cubs, he drew three walks.
“It’s definitely gotten better gradually and I think that’s just come with more at bats, more repetition, more playing time,” den Dekker said. “You get up here, the pitchers are better, the pitchers are sharper and their stuff is a little better. It gets tougher, but you’ve got to adjust and do the best you can.”
In the fishbowl that comes with playing baseball in New York, den Dekker has been quick to make friends in the clubhouse. There are some Florida ties on the team. Starting second baseman Daniel Murphy played college baseball at Jacksonville, while rookie starting pitcher Jacob deGrom played at Stetson.
Den Dekker said he hasn’t had the chance to explore New York City too much during his stints with the Mets over the last two seasons.
“A lot of media, a lot of scrutiny,” den Dekker said of New York. “If you’re playing well, they are going to love you, but if you’re playing bad, you’re gonna get the opposite. You just have to kind of take it for what it is and go out there and play.”
As being the part of the first of three straight CWS teams at Florida (2010-12), den Dekker said he’s proud of a winning legacy he helped create. He’s one of three former Gators from that era currently playing Major League Baseball. Former UF catcher Mike Zunino is starting for the Seattle Mariners and is batting .206 with 18 home runs and 45 RBIs. Former UF pitcher Paco Rodriguez is 0-0 with a 4.35 ERA and is a lefty reliever with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“A lot of other guys are knocking on the door (of the big leagues),” den Dekker said. “It’s just fun to see all the guys that you played with, you spent those years with, working hard, getting better. It’s good to see all that paying off, (guys) getting to the big-league level.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.