Matt den Dekker seems to be one of the most debated players on the Mets roster, and his 2014 season did little to calm those quarrels. After a poor first half in the majors, den Dekker returned to the minor leagues, where he retooled his swing and performed well. den Dekker was promoted and found himself on a hot streak after coming back to the majors, but is he really a changed man, or did he just hit the ball well enough for two months to garner a reaction from Mets fans?
After a nice spring training, many assumed den Dekker would begin the year on the Mets roster. However, with a number of bench pieces who could play the outfield already in place, he was returned to minor league camp. After a hot start at Triple-A Las Vegas, den Dekker was brought up to replace the injured Eric Young on May 26. What followed from den Dekker was an abysmal time at the plate.
In May and June, den Dekker took 49 at-bats, and they were, in a word, pitiful. He looked consistently lost at the plate and his batting line of .171/.244/.220 tells much of the story. His 37 wRC+ in June did little to help his cause, and he was seemingly on borrowed time unless his play improved because
den Dekker was returned to Las Vegas on June 18. It seemed to be the right move; Nieuwenhuis had made his case and den Dekker didn't appear to be getting any better at the plate. den Dekker, however, made some swing changes in Las Vegas with the help of hitting coach George Greer and manager Wally Backman. Whether the swing adjustment actually changed den Dekker's ability to make contact or just improved his confidence and approach, he made noticeable improvements at the plate and rode his hot July in the minors to a call-up when Chris Young was designated for assignment in August.
Upon recall, den Dekker looked markedly better at the plate. Because of his considerable platoon split—that is, as a left-handed batter he hit far better against righties—he was assigned a platoon role with Andrew Brown, and during August he hit .245 with a 96 wRC+ in 57 plate appearances. The results were apparently good enough to get den Dekker some time as a starter in September, and his numbers improved. His .328/.426/.431 batting line in that month left many commentators encouraged by his better approach and lower strikeout percentage. den Dekker's 178 wRC+ in high-leverage situations was also encouraging, as he regularly came up with big hits down the stretch.
So what does it mean for den Dekker going forward? It seems unlikely that he is a serious option in left field, even off the bench. Despite his productive second half, he still has a considerable platoon split, and there are questions as to whether he can maintain the 16.8% strikeout rate that he enjoyed in the second half when his career average is 24.1%. den Dekker also did not hit a home run with the Mets in 2014, which is troubling since power has long been one of his minor league calling cards. While there was reason to be optimistic, den Dekker is 27 years old and though he's a good defensive outfielder, one month of very good production against September competition is probably not enough for the Mets to even guarantee him a roster spot in 2015.
Desired 2015 role: A righty-mashing bench piece who can spell Juan Lagares in center when a rest is needed.
Projected 2015 role: A defensive replacement, who could serve in a platoon role in the event of injury.