Valdespin gets first career start in center field

Valdespin gets first career start in center field

Valdespin gets first career start in center field
NEW YORK -- Jordany Valdespin made his first career start in center field on Sunday for the Mets' series finale -- and final game before the All-Star break -- against the Cubs.

Valdespin was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo on June 24 when Ruben Tejada was activated from the 15-day disabled list, but since rejoining the team on Wednesday, he had belted two home runs. Valdespin started in left field against the Cubs on Saturday.

"I saw some great bright spots in Spring Training," manager Terry Collins said about Valdespin's abilities as a center fielder. "[Triple-A manager] Wally [Backman] said he's played very well when he's played him out there."

Valdespin started in center just once during his most recent stint with Buffalo -- he started six of seven games at second base. Regardless, Collins -- who served as the Mets' Minor League field coordinator in 2010 -- thinks the 24-year-old has a lot of potential.

"Towards the end of the first year I ever saw him," Collins said, "when you saw the athleticism, you almost said, 'You know what? This guy would make a pretty good center fielder.' So there was always that thought to put him out there."

Valdespin -- who Collins frequently uses as a pinch-hitter -- had hit safely in his last nine Major League starts dating back to May 13 entering Sunday. Collins said he feels that the talent level is there, but admitted that the sample size -- Valdespin had just 67 career at-bats entering Sunday -- is still too small to determine whether or not he is ready to be an everyday starter.

"I can't put a number of at-bats on it, because they are going to start making some adjustments and seeing what he can handle," Collins said. "But Jordany Valdespin is a very talented kid, [he's] got all sorts of ability."

But Collins said that even with Valdespin's improvement as a player, the skipper is most impressed with his maturation at the Major League level. As a Minor Leaguer, Collins said Valdespin showed talent and ability but was inconsistent with his attitude and how he approached the game.

"Up here, he's been a whole different guy, and I think the fact that he's in a Major League clubhouse where he's watching, he's listening, we've got some great veterans -- I think Miguel Batista has been a tremendous mentor for him -- he's growing up a little bit. He may be the guy as we continue on down here that gets the most out of this whole season because he grows up."

Valdespin got the nod in center on Sunday with Andres Torres still recovering from a back injury and Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the midst of a prolonged offensive slump. If the two can rebound from their respective issues during next week's All-Star break, Collins will have to juggle playing time in the outfield if Valdespin remains with the team for the second half of the season.

All things considered, it's a pretty good problem to have.