AZUSA, Calif.-- Azusa Pacific baseball has had a great winter and a pitch hasn't even been thrown. The Tampa Bay Rays added Cougar alum Stephen Vogt to its 40-man roster while the New York Mets made a similar announcement as the Mets placed Kirk Nieuwenhuis (’08) on its 40-man roster at the MLB winter meetings.
Nieuwenhuis, who had a great shot of reaching the big leagues last season before landing on the DL with a torn labrum, hit .298 in limited action in AAA Buffalo on top of slugging six homeruns in 188 at-bats.
Over the prior three seasons of minor league ball Nieuwenhuis has shown steady improvement as he’s ascended through the ranks. In his first full season of A-ball (09) in St. Lucie (Fla.) he hit .274 with 16 HRs, 71 RBI, and stole 16 bases. From there the lefty got bumped up to AA Binghampton (N.Y.) where he posted his best season to date; hitting 35 doubles and 16 HRs while batting at a .289 clip. Nieuwenhuis also swiped 13 bags, tallied 60 RBI, and scored 81 runs in 2010 before being promoted to triple-A Buffalo in late July.
In 2011 the centerfielder opened the year for the Buffalo Bison, and performed well as he hit .298 with six HR before tearing his labrum on his non-throwing shoulder while making a diving catch in the outfield. The injury eventually ended his season.