"I actually went to Port St. Lucie a month early and we worked out there and it was great," den Dekker said. "We worked out a couple hours each day, and it was good to get a head start on training."
Once at Spring Training, den Dekker focused on what he believes to be his biggest problem - his strikeouts. Last season, playing in both St. Lucie and Binghamton, den Dekker had 156 strikeouts, averaging a strikeout per three at-bats. Though his offensive numbers weren't bad with eleven home runs 32 RBIs in his 72 games in AA, the strikeouts are a consistent problem.
"Last year I struck out a lot and I struggled with that," he said. "So I really tried to emphasize cutting that down and shortening my swing. I worked on that a lot, and tried to figure out what's comfortable with me, what's the best swing, what feels the most comfortable, and its still kind of a work in progress."
Manager Pedro Lopez is someone who knows den Dekker well, having managed him in St. Lucie for half the season last year. Lopez is quick to acknowledge den Dekker's talent.
"He had a great year for us last year in St Lucie," Lopez said of den Dekker, "he hit .300 and played solid ball."
Lopez also knows there is room for improvement. Like den Dekker himself, Lopez notes patience at the plate, another effort to reduce his strikeout total.
"I would like for him to get his on-base percentage up" Lopez said, "take more pitches, and wait for the right pitch."
After hitting for average on the three teams prior to Binghamton, including his stellar 27-game stretch with the Savannah Sand Gnats where he hit .346 and his longer stint in St. Lucie where he hit .296 with 19 doubles, den Dekker batting average was the lowest its been last season with the B-Mets, where he hit .235, and his strikeouts increased notably.
Much of this dip might have to do with his promotion to Double-A, something he credits for his lower average, but he is nevertheless optimistic about this year.
Despite this optimism, and an inherent offensive talent, den Dekker's start to the 2012 season has been a bit stagnant. In the first six games of the season, he is hitting .238 with 5 strikeouts. However, it is still very early, and there are 136 games left for him to show Binghamton the kind of stuff he has.
"You know, Matt plays a great centerfield, and he's a solid all-around ball player," Lopez said. "I think it's easy to get off to a slow start in the cold weather, especially just coming from sunny Florida. I think he's going to hit his stride and have another great year."
Hopefully Lopez is right. Den Dekker has high expectations for his career, and why shouldn't he? If he continues to work on his at-bats and stays patient at the plate, he will be warming up along with the weather. Den Dekker knows this is tough work, but he knows too that if he focuses on the game the hits will come.
"I just try to have quality at-bats every time out, try to not give away at bats, and try to battle," den Dekker says of his game. "You've got to really focus when you come to the field, get your mind right, and the stats will be there if you work hard and try to stay focused. You're numbers will stay good, and you'll win a lot of games."