For today's 'Minor League Monday' we're lucky enough to have an interview with Mets 2010 fifth round selection OF Matt den Dekker. Den Dekker had a sensational spring with Florida that culminated in an appearance in the College World Series and overall he had his best season as a Gator, batting .352 with thirteen bombs and a .997 OPS while playing what most scouts agreed was the best defensive center field in the country. After signing, den Dekker kept right on going, batting .346 in just over one hundred at bats with Savannah during their stretch run to the playoffs. Just after the season ended, Matt was kind enough to make some time to chat with me:
Rob: First off let's talk about your pro debut; obviously you've been very successful, first in the GCL and now with Savannah, how have you felt since starting your pro career?Matt: I've felt really good. Following the spring season I kind of jumped right into it in Port St. Lucie and I never really slowed down. I just feel really lucky to be with a lot of good coaches and great players and I'm excited that I've started my professional career on the right foot. It's also nice that I've played around this area quite a bit in high school and college so that's helped me too.
Was it cool to kind of jump right into a playoff run with the Sand Gnats?Yeah like I said I've been really lucky in a lot of ways, to join such a great organization and it's been awesome joining these guys in Savannah at such an exciting time of year. Unfortunately we didn't quite make it all the way but it was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.
Now the knock on you coming into your senior season at Florida was that you were a glove-first guy who might not have a major league bat; then this spring you go out and have by far your best offensive season, crushing 13 bombs and batting .352. Did you make changes to your training or approach or did it just kind of happen?Didn't really make a ton of changes, it really did just happen. I was a little disappointed after my junior year because I didn't have my best season so I worked really hard last offseason but didn't really do anything very differently. I think everything just finally kind of came together, all the stuff I'd been working on with my coaches over the past couple seasons. And after a few years of facing really high level pitching I finally started feeling like I was in control at the plate, I was thinking along with the pitchers, seeing pitches well and squaring the ball well all year.
What would you say is the biggest difference between pro and college baseball?The crowds we bring out every night are probably as big or bigger than some of the biggest we ever had in Gainesville. Also the pitchers are more consistent in the pros which has been tougher to deal with.
Was it a difficult decision to head back to school after the Pirates drafted you [in the 16th round] last year? And what made you go back?Yeah it was, I was anxious to go pro and I was tempted to just do it but like I said I was pretty disappointed after last year. I was confident in myself that I could do better. It was also important to myself and my parents to finish college and get my degree and I really wanted to go back and finish what we had started at Florida and try to win that national title. We came close but it was a great year either way.
Do you think playing at such a high profile program at Florida helped prepare you for professional baseball?Definitely, the competition in the SEC is intense. Every year I faced pitchers who were drafted and almost every matchup was serious, nobody took games off. It wasn't quite pro ball but it was the next best thing.
Now we hear a lot about your fielding prowess, is that something you've had to work on or has it always come naturally for you?It's always come pretty naturally, but obviously I still work on it a lot. I try to work on my routes and cuts and stuff but I've always been pretty good in the field.
On that same note, how cool is it to watch yourself on the ESPN Top Plays?Yeah I have to admit that was pretty cool. That was a great moment mainly because it was during the College World Series and plus it was national television so it was the biggest stage I've ever played on. Watching that with my teammates was just a lot of fun and it's something that I'll never forget. Definitely one of my best baseball memories.[Watch the play here]
It must have been pretty great to play in the College World Series, even if you guys didn't win...It was, the most intense environment I've ever played in and something I'll never forget. We had a great run and we fell short but I wouldn't trade that for anything, it was an amazing time.
Can you describe draft day for us? Where were you, had you heard from the Mets before, how did you celebrate, that kind of stuff.I got a call from them right after they picked me, it was pretty awesome because they're a great organization so I was really excited. I was just at the end of taking finals and stuff so I had to finish all that but it was a really good feeling knowing that as soon as I was done I was going to go start my career.
What would you say your biggest strengths and weaknesses are as a player?I'd say my biggest strength is my defense, I always feel like I can help my team defensively. My biggest weakness is hitting lefties, I've been working really hard on that to improve against them.
Now for some personal ones; what else do you like to do in your free time?Just regular stuff, hanging out with my friends, playing X-Box and watching TV. And I'm a big beach guy, I like to chill in the sand.What's your favorite TV show?DexterWhat's the last movie you saw?Inception, complicated but very good.If I turned on your iPod right now what would be playing?Probably some Lil' WayneWho was your favorite professional player growing up and why?Well I liked a lot of different guys growing up but more recently my favorite guy to watch is Grady Sizemore. He's such a talented player and I feel like I've got a similar style as him and I try to model my game after his.Well Matt, thanks so much for making some time to chat with me today. Congrats on a great professional debut this summer and good luck going forward!