Saturday, August 13, 2011

Duda Mets Give Lucas An Everyday Job In 2012?

Prior to 2010, Lucas Duda was a fringe prospect. From 2007-2009, Duda played in a total of 310 minor league games and combined to hit .277 with 24 HR and 151 RBI in 1,112 at-bats. Despite the relatively low amount of home runs and the so-so batting average, Duda showed a good eye at the plate, drawing 161 walks over the three seasons to give him a .374 on-base percentage.

That all changed in 2010, when Duda exploded upon the scene. He combined to hit .304 for AA-Binghamton and AAA-Buffalo, with 23 HR and 87 RBI. He improved his on-base percentage to .398, while slugging at a .569 clip.

Upon his promotion to the major leagues, Duda's production suffered, as he had difficulty adjusting to major league pitching, hitting .202/.261/.417 in 92 plate appearances. He did, however, continue to hit with power (when he did hit), picking up six doubles, four home runs and 13 RBI.

Duda began the 2011 season at the major league level but continued to disappoint at the plate, hitting a measly .100 and slugging a paltry .150 over his first month with the Mets. He was then sent back down to Buffalo and rediscovered his stroke, mashing minor league pitching while displaying a keen eye (.302/.414/.597 in 157 plate appearances).

But once July rolled around and the trade deadline approached, it became obvious that Carlos Beltran was going to be traded, opening up a spot for Lucas Duda to play every day, an opportunity that Duda has taken full advantage of.

Lucas Duda should be at the center of more celebrations for the Mets in 2012 and beyond.

Since the All-Star Break, Duda has played in 30 games (24 starts). In 95 plate appearances, Duda's batting average (.333), on-base percentage (.426) and slugging percentage (.577) have all improved exponentially. He has also made excellent contact while continuing to be selective at the plate (12 strikeouts, 12 walks).

Most importantly, Duda has taken Carlos Beltran's place in the batting order and has produced Beltran-like numbers. At the same time, Beltran has struggled in San Francisco, producing a .244/.261/.356 line in 11 games for the Giants. He has failed to hit a home run and has only driven in a pair of runs, after leading the Mets with 15 HR and 66 RBI. The injury bug that he escaped in New York in 2011 caught up with him in San Francisco, as a hand injury has kept Beltran out of the lineup for the past week.

The right field position has been like a game of musical chairs for the Mets since Darryl Strawberry left the team following the 1990 season. In the two decades since Darryl's departure, no Met has played more than 290 games in right field (Jeromy Burnitz has the honor of most games played in right since 1990). In fact, although third base used to be considered the revolving door of positions for the Mets, with 145 different players manning the hot corner, it's right field that has seen the most players. Including the 2011 season, a total of 205 men have played the position for the Mets, with seven of them doing it this year alone (Beltran, Duda, Jason Pridie, Scott Hairston, Mike Baxter, Willie Harris, Fernando Martinez and Nick Evans).

Lucas Duda is only 25 years old. He is just beginning to spread his wings in the major leagues. He hits with power, doesn't strike out much and knows how to take a walk. In other words, he is exactly the type of player Sandy Alderson likes (and that's not even including his low salary).

The Mets haven't had stability in right field in over two decades. Why not give Lucas Duda a shot to make the position his own? Ike Davis will be back at first base in 2012 (he is coming back, right?), leaving right field as the only position available for Duda to play. Duda has filled the hole in the batting order left by the departure of Beltran exceptionally well. Now it's time for him to fill the hole in right field as well.

"Now starting in right field for the New York Mets - Lucas Duda." Get used to it, Mets fans. You should be hearing plenty of that at Citi Field in 2012 and beyond.

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