High Draft Picks Lead The Sand Gnats

Shields return from Tommy John surgery

SAVANNAH, GA - A lot of attention has been paid to young players on the current Mets big league roster. Meanwhile in Savannah, there are two high draft picks from the 2009 and 2010 drafts who helped boost a playoff-bound Sand Gnats team into the South Atlantic League playoffs.


Infielder Robbie Shields and Outfielder Matt Den Dekker have been a tag team duo that boosted the Savannah Sand Gnats advance to the first round of the playoffs before falling 2-0 to the Greenville Drive in the South Atlantic League Division series.

The Sand Gnats were already on their way to the playoffs before both their arrivals having won the first half title. However, offensively, both players climbed up the batting chart which added to some of the great talent already there. Den Dekker felt optimistic about the year despite his limited playing time.

"I feel real good. I've had some up and downs, but in pro ball you have to be able to deal with the ups and downs. It's a long season, but so far I am having a good time," said Den Dekker who hit .346 with 15 RBI, 13 doubles and a .404 on-base percentage in 27 games with the club.

While the adjustment to playing pro ball has been somewhat of a challenge, Den Dekker was well prepared for the next level.

"The talent level is higher than college baseball but playing in the SEC at Florida (University of Florida) helped prepare me, but I realize that there is still much more to learn," Den Dekker said.

Den Dekker's poise comes from his ability to keep his composure and play with confidence. "I try to stay relaxed. I play my best when I'm relaxed and I keep working on my approach so I'm more comfortable when I'm out there," said the Gnats centerfielder.

After the last season, Den Dekker didn't take much time off. "During the off season I worked really hard as well as during my four years of college which helped prepare me to come out here and work hard," Den Dekker said.

Robbie Shields got back into action after missing time not from playing college ball this season, but from Tommy John surgery. The second-year shortstop had the procedure done following an unproductive first summer with the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2009.

"Oh it was long. I had Tommy John surgery. Its unfortunate…it is what it is…I sat out for most of the season this year. The rehab was pretty slow but good," said Shields.

Shields did not return to action until the second half of the season. He played 23 games in the Gulf Coast League and two with St. Lucie where he went 22-for-89 with one home run and eight RBI. However, he found his stride when he got to Savannah.

In 39 games with Savannah, he hit .290 with five home runs, 26 RBI, 10 doubles. When asked about whether or not he was nervous about getting back out on the field, Shields admitted that he wasn't quite sure how his elbow would feel.

"You feel that way after any kind of injury. When you start throwing again you are kind of cautious about it but you know that you are going to get better. It felt better and better everyday. I don't worry about it at all now," said Shields.

His main concern was how he would perform considering the amount of time he sat out. "I was just worried about trying to have a good year. Last year I had a tough year, playing through an injury up in Brooklyn and I didn't hit like I wanted to. This year I hit a lot better which is nice. I can still improve on defense," he said.

Although the healing process could take anywhere from a year to a year and a half, Shields is confident that he has fully gained his strength back.

"I was told that I wouldn't get the full strength back in my arm for about 12 to 18 months but it feels great," said Shields, who is back in action roughly 12 months after surgery.

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