PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Despite making significant advances last season, Mets outfielders Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Eric Campbell and Matt den Dekker find themselves on the roster bubble again in spring training.
All three, each of whom will turn 28 during this season, arrived at camp early to get a head start on the battle ahead. Along with Cesar Puello, they probably are fighting for two spots as backups to the starting outfield of Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and Michael Cuddyer.
Nieuwenhuis would seem to have the inside track because he has the most major-league experience and posted the best offensive numbers, especially as a pinch hitter. He went 8-for-28 (.286) with five doubles and two walks in that role last season.
Nieuwenhuis hit .259 overall, with an .855 OPS against righthanders. That is significant because Lagares, who started 105 games in centerfield in 2014, hit lefthanders much better than righthanders.
"My mentality is not going to change from last year or the year before," Nieuwenhuis said on Thursday. "Being more consistent is the big thing; you're always working toward that."
Nieuwenhuis is out of options, which means the Mets likely will lose him on waivers to another team if he does not make the 25-man roster. He hopes that will help him stick in the majors this season.
"Going up and down [between the Mets and their Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas] gets old," he said. "I've done Tacoma to Miami a few times, and that takes a few days to get adjusted."
Campbell was in his seventh minor-league season when he was called up from Las Vegas on May 10 for the first time in his career. He stuck for the rest of the season and showed his versatility, playing six positions -- all four infield spots and the two corner outfield positions. He plans to add catching to his repertoire in spring training.
"I realized years ago that was going to be my ticket as a utility guy, and if another position needs to be added, I'm all for it," said Campbell, who married his childhood sweetheart in December in Norwich, Connecticut.
Though showing up early for camp makes a good impression on the front office, Campbell said his reasons were more practical: getting away from the cold in the Northeast and avoiding a repeat of his final two months of last season. He was hitting .328 on July 31 but batted only .162 in August and September.
"The way I finished last year left a sour taste in my mouth, so I'm here to prove I can be better," Campbell said.
The opposite is the case for den Dekker, who came on strong in September. The lefthanded-hitting outfielder, who is a strong defender, hit .290 in 36 games after being called up for the third time on Aug. 9. He struggled to a .104 average in two previous stints.
"I felt really good the way I finished the season, and I thought I played well and got better as the season went on," said den Dekker, who also got married in December. "I'm going to build on that and try to be on base more and cut down on strikeouts."