Nickes returns as a B-Mets backstop
In his second time around with Binghamton, Nickeas looks to take his game to the next level. He has the knowledge to play strong defense, but for a more complete game, his ability at the plate needs to mature. Inside Pitch caught up with Nickeas after his recent recall.
Trenton Thunder reliever Tim Lavigne missed just outside for ball four, sending Mike Nickeas down to first base to load the bases for the Binghamton Mets in the sixth inning Wednesday at NYSEG Stadium, with the B-Mets behind 2-0.
The next batter, Caleb Stewart, doubled down the left field line, bringing Nickeas all the way around as the go-ahead run. The B-Mets, in last place in the Eastern League Northern Division, went on to defeat the first-place Thunder, 5-2, scoring all five runs in that sixth. Taking a walk is the quiet, underappreciated method to keeping a rally going.
“Got to get it,” Nickeas said. “Take your walks, man, that’ll help you. It’s a long year.”
It has been a particularly long year for the 24-year-old catcher. He started the year with the B-Mets in a platoon with Jose A. Reyes, but after hitting just .213 in 42 games, he was demoted to St. Lucie in late June, and the recently departed Drew Butera took his place.
Now, after Butera was traded to the Twins, Nickeas is back in Binghamton. He will be splitting time behind the plate again—this time with Rafael Arroyo. Reyes is on the disabled list with an elbow injury.
“I actually talked to Drew right after he got traded and I wished him good luck and all,” Nickeas said. “I was down (in St. Lucie) working hard; I hadn’t thought about coming back or what they were going to do. That’s stuff you don’t have control of as a player, so wherever you are you have to try to do your best, and when you’re successful, they normally reward you.”
Nickeas was the Texas Rangers’ fifth round pick in the 2004 draft out of Georgia Tech. In 2005, he jumped from Rookie-ball to Double-A, where he hit .202. In 2006, the Rangers started him in High-A, where he hit .297, but then another promotion to Double-A saw his average drop to .248. On August 30 of last season, he was traded to the Mets for outfielder Victor Diaz.
He has yet to be given a full-time catching job in the Mets organization. The last time he saw consistent time was in High-A at the start of last year, and he got a taste of what it is like again in St. Lucie this year.
“It’s been awhile,” Nickeas said. “I was hoping for that this year, obviously it didn’t happen. This year when I was down in High-A was the first time that I played five times in a row, and it was a really good feeling. I feel like I can play everyday, and it’s great to feel like you’re contributing to the team on an everyday basis.”
For now though, Nickeas will have to cope with sharing time, which means every at-bat becomes more precious.
“It’s definitely harder, but it’s possible,” Nickeas said. “You just have to stay mentally tough. And then every at-bat you get you can’t throw them away, because you have to believe that this might be your last at-bat for two or three days.”
In St. Lucie, Nickeas’ average did not soar: he finished at .208 over 26 games. But he had an on-base percentage of .378, indicating an improved batting eye. More importantly, he had time to work with hitting coach Luis Natera.
“Lots of it was stuff that (B-Mets hitting coach Nelson Silverio) and I had worked on up here,” Nickeas said. “But going down there gave me the opportunity to really just delve into it, and really kind of believe and trust and hammer out what I was trying to do.”
Nickeas has slightly opened his stance, trying to get his backside through quicker. He said he wants to come straight down on top of the ball instead starting his swing behind his body and dragging his bat through the zone.
He has always been well-regarded defensively, and has less to work on behind the plate.
“I feel real confident with him back there,” said B-Mets pitcher Sal Aguilar. “He calls a pretty good game, sets up real good, gives us a good target—nothing to complain about.”
He threw out 10 of 21 potential basestealers in St. Lucie. Handling the pitchers, Nickeas said the most important thing a catcher can do is to get to know his guys.
“You really have to get to know a staff before they can start believing in you, and that you’re trying to help them instead of just being back there and calling numbers and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s good that I know most of these guys here, obviously being that I’ve been with them so long, and it’s been pretty seamless.”
The trick at the plate for Nickeas might be trying to do less. In his final 10 games before being traded, Nickeas hit .394, including four multi-hit games. He has yet to regain that form.
“That’s difficult when you’re in a new place,” Nickeas said. “I was talking to (B-Mets pitching coach Ricky Bones) about it, too: when you come to a new team after a trade, there’s always this feeling that you want to jump out, you want to impress them. You try to be perfect about it and I think that was part of my problem, I was trying to be perfect. I was trying to make plays and do things with the bat that were maybe a little outside of what I can do, and I think that’s a learning curve.
B-Mets manager Mako Oliveras said it more succinctly: “To me he was just trying to do too much instead of trying to stay back and up the middle.”
Now, Nickeas willl take the walk instead of trying for the grand slam. “Now when I come back up, I’m just looking to have fun,” he said.