Going into March, the only outfielder assured of an everyday job is Lucas Duda, who's swinging and missing in spring training as if the pitcher was throwing furniture at him. The other two outfield spots will be split between Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Marlon Byrd and Collin Cowgill. Basically, the Mets are holding open tryouts for two-thirds of their outfield, with two right-handed hitters and two lefties battling it out for outfield supremacy.
All four players have their reasons for starting. But I believe one player should start before the others, regardless of the position he ends up getting.
|Collin Cowgill photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images|
Collin Cowgill has played 423 games in the minor leagues, which is approximately three full seasons worth of games. In that time, he has an impressive .291/.371/.470 slash line. Cowgill has amassed 100 doubles, 22 triples, 51 homers and 80 stolen bases since he played his first professional game in 2008. He has also been an exceptional defensive outfielder, racking up 44 assists while committing only 18 errors in five minor league seasons.
Cowgill's time in the majors has been limited, as he indulged in a cup of coffee with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 and had a refill with the Oakland A's in 2012. Between the two stints, he has collected 196 at-bats, batting .255 with five doubles, two homers, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored and seven stolen bases. But a closer look at the numbers reveals that Cowgill is not at all suited to coming off the bench.
In 25 career games off the bench, Cowgill has racked up a total of three hits. Three might be a magic number to some, but it's downright tragic when that number represents a player's hit total off the bench in parts of two seasons. I mean, Jordany Valdespin had two more HOME RUNS off the bench in 2012 than Cowgill had BASE HITS in 2011 and 2012 combined. However, as a starting player, Cowgill has been much more effective.
In his first go-round in the majors in 2011, Cowgill started 21 games and batted .250 (19-for-76) with three doubles, one homer and nine RBIs. Last season, he earned more starts and showed great improvement, raising his batting average to .283 in 28 starts. He also showed more patience at the plate, as evidenced by his .351 on-base percentage in his starts. (Cowgill had a .321 OBP as a starter in 2011.)
Let's consider Cowgill's career batting average and on-base percentage as a starter and bench player and compare them to those of the Mets' other three outfield candidates:
- Collin Cowgill: .250/.321 (as a starter); .188/.188 (off the bench)
- Mike Baxter: .232/.332 (as a starter); .321/.418 (off the bench)
- Marlon Byrd: .278/.335 (as a starter); .272/.351 (off the bench)
- K. Nieuwenhuis: .255/.316 (as a starter); .217/.308 (off the bench)
Going by those numbers, it would appear as if Cowgill and Nieuwenhuis should get the bulk of the starts, saving Baxter and Byrd as the top left-handed and right-handed pinch hitters, respectively.
Terry Collins will have to consider all the variables when it comes to filling out his lineup card every day. Will he need a better defensive outfield? Does he need an extra lefty in the lineup? What about an extra right-handed hitter?
Any one of the four outfielders not named Duda can get the bulk of the starts in center field or right field. But of the four, Collin Cowgill should be the one who remains on the bench the least. Not only is he an exciting player who can hit, run and field, but he's most valuable when his name is in the starting lineup.
If Collin Cowgill can continue to produce as a starting player as he has in the past, then Mets fans will be seeing a lot of him at Citi Field in 2013.