Den Dekker Hits The Ground Running

It took a while for the Mets to get Matt Den Dekker in uniform. That is because the 2010 5th round pick's final collegiate season brought him all the way to the College World Series. When Den Dekker finally suited up, however, he showed a promising skill set that could have him quickly ascend the organizational ladder.

Matt Den Dekker played his first official baseball game of the season on Feb. 19, as his University of Florida team opened its 2010 schedule against South Florida.

More than six months later, Den Dekker was still playing—albeit on the professional level. Approaching the conclusion of an abbreviated first season in the New York Mets' organization, den Dekker has indicated to all observers why the Mets chose him with a fifth round pick in June's amateur draft.

After his first season, Den Dekker looks back at a stat sheet showing a .346 average with 15 RBI and a .404 on-base percentage with the Mets' Savannah affiliate. He got a late start this summer—partly because his Florida team advanced to the College World Series, and partly because he did not sign his contract with the Mets until late July.

"It's been a lot of baseball," he acknowledged. "College, you start fall practice … then the first of February, it's on."

He appears to have his long 2010 season in the correct perspective.

"It's an opportunity most people don't get," Den Dekker noted.

In a way, playing pro ball might be a bit of a break for Den Dekker. For four years, the history major had to juggle schoolwork and the rigors of playing in the Southeastern Conference. The NCAA sets limits on hours that can be spent on a sport—officially, anyway—but as Den Dekker noted, that didn't keep him from working out solo.

"A lot of guys take it upon themselves to go work out by themselves, work with a buddy. We did a lot of that on our own," he recalled. "We would go and hit by all ourselves, or with a teammate, anytime we wanted. I'm used to doing that—going out there and hitting in the cage."

Thus, the long days and nights at the ballpark—which are especially prevalent at the lower levels of the minor leagues—haven't been too stark an adjustment.

"It's basically what I've been doing in Florida, minus the school hours. It's been nice," he said.

That's not the only way that the SEC—which Den Dekker calls one of the best college baseball conferences in the country—has prepared the Fort Lauderdale native for the pros.

"So far it's been comparable to the pitching I've seen here," Den Dekker said, comparing the SEC to the South Atlantic League. "Playing in the Southeastern Conference, it helped prepare me well for professional baseball."

His decision to return for his senior season at the University of Florida also worked out rather well. The Pittsburgh Pirates chose den Dekker in the 16th round of the 2009 draft, but he decided not to sign. A disappointing junior season—hitting .257 with just four total extra-base hits—played a major factor in the decision.

"At the time, my junior year didn't go as well as I had planned out for," he said of the decision to return to school. "I thought about all the things that Florida has, all the great coaches there. It's a great program there. I thought if I go back and work hard, things would be better."

And things were better—in every conceivable way. As an individual, Den Dekker led the team in batting average (.352) and runs scored (65), while reaching career highs in both home runs (13) and RBIs (49) with 23 total extra-base hits. Along the way, he engineered a 22-game hit streak.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound left-hander also had more multi-hit games—28—than any of his Florida teammates. His 23 stolen bases, meanwhile, ranked sixth in the conference. In the field, the full-time center fielder made the SEC's Defensive Team for the third consecutive season. He's generally regarded as the top defensive outfielder in program history.

Meanwhile, calling it an improved season for the Gators might be an understatement. With Den Dekker serving as one of the team's key leaders, Florida advanced to the College World Series, reaching the championships for the first time since 2005 and the sixth time in school history. The Gators lost their first two games in Omaha to get eliminated early, but Florida's postseason run still created an indelible memory for Den Dekker.

"It was a great four years there," he reflected. "The time flew by there at Florida, but it was stuff I would never forget. If I hadn't come back that last year, I would have missed out on a lot of experiences."

Playing in the College World Series, which took place after the Major League Baseball draft, guaranteed Den Dekker would get a late start on his pro career. And, in fact, he didn't sign until late July.

"Definitely, I knew I was going to sign, being a senior," he said. "I just waited a few weeks after the season was over. I'm just glad to finally be out here playing."

However, it turns out that four years playing in the SEC was good training for what he's experienced thus far in the Mets' farm system. After five games with the Gulf Coast League Mets, den Dekker was promoted to Savannah.

"Getting accustomed down in the Gulf Coast for a few days. I think that helped me out," Den Dekker observed. "I got some ABs down there and got accustomed to the wood bats. When I got up here, I've just been fighting for holes and hitting the ball pretty well. So far, it's been a pretty good transition."

Heading into the month of September, Den Dekker had yet to tally his first home run as a professional. It's something he attributed in part to the fairly substantial dimensions of the Sand Gnats' home field, Grayson Stadium.

On the other hand, power isn't one of the primary assets of Den Dekker's game. He's more suited to be at the top of the lineup. He swings for contact. He uses his speed to leg out base hits, and then steal bases.

"I just like to play the game hard, play the game tough," Den Dekker said. "That's the way it's supposed to be played."

It's an attitude that old-school fans and baseball purists should love. And it seems appropriate, given than Den Dekker's love for the game was cultivated as a youngster going to spring training games in the Florida sunshine. Living in Fort Lauderdale, Den Dekker predictably was a regular in games at the Orioles' facility.

"I used to go all the time," Den Dekker recalled. "I'd go down there as a kid … the players down there, it's something that got me into baseball, going to those games"

"I remember going out there, seeing those big leaguers and thinking, ‘One day I'll be out there,' " Den Dekker added.

"One day" is here. Drafted by the Mets in the fifth round of June's draft, he still has a long way to go to reach the big leagues. But Den Dekker will still be one of the guys on the field for spring training.

"It's something I worked for my whole life. To be a professional baseball player. I just tried to play hard, play my game and it's worked out," he said.


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nMatt Den Dekker played his first official baseball game of the season on Feb. 19, as his University of Florida team opened its 2010 schedule against South Florida.
\r\n
\r\nMore than six months later, Den Dekker was still playing—albeit on the professional level. Approaching the conclusion of an abbreviated first season in the New York Mets' organization, den Dekker has indicated to all observers why the Mets chose him with a fifth round pick in June's amateur draft.
\r\n
\r\nAfter his first season, Den Dekker looks back at a stat sheet showing a .346 average with 15 RBI and a .404 on-base percentage with the Mets' Savannah affiliate. He got a late start this summer—partly because his Florida team advanced to the College World Series, and partly because he did not sign his contract with the Mets until late July.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's been a lot of baseball,\" he acknowledged. \"College, you start fall practice … then the first of February, it's on.\"
\r\n
\r\nHe appears to have his long 2010 season in the correct perspective.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's an opportunity most people don't get,\" Den Dekker noted.
\r\n
\r\nIn a way, playing pro ball might be a bit of a break for Den Dekker. For four years, the history major had to juggle schoolwork and the rigors of playing in the Southeastern Conference. The NCAA sets limits on hours that can be spent on a sport—officially, anyway—but as Den Dekker noted, that didn't keep him from working out solo.
\r\n
\r\n\"A lot of guys take it upon themselves to go work out by themselves, work with a buddy. We did a lot of that on our own,\" he recalled. \"We would go and hit by all ourselves, or with a teammate, anytime we wanted. I'm used to doing that—going out there and hitting in the cage.\"
\r\n
\r\nThus, the long days and nights at the ballpark—which are especially prevalent at the lower levels of the minor leagues—haven't been too stark an adjustment.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's basically what I've been doing in Florida, minus the school hours. It's been nice,\" he said.
\r\n
\r\nThat's not the only way that the SEC—which Den Dekker calls one of the best college baseball conferences in the country—has prepared the Fort Lauderdale native for the pros.
\r\n
\r\n\"So far it's been comparable to the pitching I've seen here,\" Den Dekker said, comparing the SEC to the South Atlantic League. \"Playing in the Southeastern Conference, it helped prepare me well for professional baseball.\"
\r\n
\r\n\r\n\r\nHis decision to return for his senior season at the University of Florida also worked out rather well. The Pittsburgh Pirates chose den Dekker in the 16th round of the 2009 draft, but he decided not to sign. A disappointing junior season—hitting .257 with just four total extra-base hits—played a major factor in the decision.
\r\n
\r\n\"At the time, my junior year didn't go as well as I had planned out for,\" he said of the decision to return to school. \"I thought about all the things that Florida has, all the great coaches there. It's a great program there. I thought if I go back and work hard, things would be better.\"
\r\n
\r\nAnd things were better—in every conceivable way. As an individual, Den Dekker led the team in batting average (.352) and runs scored (65), while reaching career highs in both home runs (13) and RBIs (49) with 23 total extra-base hits. Along the way, he engineered a 22-game hit streak.
\r\n
\r\nThe 6-foot-1, 205-pound left-hander also had more multi-hit games—28—than any of his Florida teammates. His 23 stolen bases, meanwhile, ranked sixth in the conference. In the field, the full-time center fielder made the SEC's Defensive Team for the third consecutive season. He's generally regarded as the top defensive outfielder in program history.
\r\n
\r\nMeanwhile, calling it an improved season for the Gators might be an understatement. With Den Dekker serving as one of the team's key leaders, Florida advanced to the College World Series, reaching the championships for the first time since 2005 and the sixth time in school history. The Gators lost their first two games in Omaha to get eliminated early, but Florida's postseason run still created an indelible memory for Den Dekker.
\r\n
\r\n\"It was a great four years there,\" he reflected. \"The time flew by there at Florida, but it was stuff I would never forget. If I hadn't come back that last year, I would have missed out on a lot of experiences.\"
\r\n
\r\nPlaying in the College World Series, which took place after the Major League Baseball draft, guaranteed Den Dekker would get a late start on his pro career. And, in fact, he didn't sign until late July.
\r\n
\r\n\"Definitely, I knew I was going to sign, being a senior,\" he said. \"I just waited a few weeks after the season was over. I'm just glad to finally be out here playing.\"
\r\n
\r\nHowever, it turns out that four years playing in the SEC was good training for what he's experienced thus far in the Mets' farm system. After five games with the Gulf Coast League Mets, den Dekker was promoted to Savannah.
\r\n
\r\n\r\n\"Getting accustomed down in the Gulf Coast for a few days. I think that helped me out,\" Den Dekker observed. \"I got some ABs down there and got accustomed to the wood bats. When I got up here, I've just been fighting for holes and hitting the ball pretty well. So far, it's been a pretty good transition.\"
\r\n
\r\nHeading into the month of September, Den Dekker had yet to tally his first home run as a professional. It's something he attributed in part to the fairly substantial dimensions of the Sand Gnats' home field, Grayson Stadium.
\r\n
\r\nOn the other hand, power isn't one of the primary assets of Den Dekker's game. He's more suited to be at the top of the lineup. He swings for contact. He uses his speed to leg out base hits, and then steal bases.
\r\n
\r\n\"I just like to play the game hard, play the game tough,\" Den Dekker said. \"That's the way it's supposed to be played.\"
\r\n
\r\n It's an attitude that old-school fans and baseball purists should love. And it seems appropriate, given than Den Dekker's love for the game was cultivated as a youngster going to spring training games in the Florida sunshine. Living in Fort Lauderdale, Den Dekker predictably was a regular in games at the Orioles' facility.
\r\n
\r\n\"I used to go all the time,\" Den Dekker recalled. \"I'd go down there as a kid … the players down there, it's something that got me into baseball, going to those games\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I remember going out there, seeing those big leaguers and thinking, ‘One day I'll be out there,' \" Den Dekker added.
\r\n
\r\n\"One day\" is here. Drafted by the Mets in the fifth round of June's draft, he still has a long way to go to reach the big leagues. But Den Dekker will still be one of the guys on the field for spring training.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's something I worked for my whole life. To be a professional baseball player. I just tried to play hard, play my game and it's worked out,\" he said.
\r\n
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