Non-Hype Prospect – Lucas Duda
Lucas Duda – Where did he come from?
One of the most fascinating things in baseball prospecting, at least for me, isn’t the top prospect who becomes the great player (though that is pretty cool). For me, one of the most fascinating things is when the non-prospect, the non-top-pick makes a splash in the major leagues. One of the sudden splashes over the past few years is Mets OF/1B, Lucas Duda.
After attending Arlington High School in Riverside, California, Duda was not selected in the Rule IV draft and went to the University of Southern California, where he, well, played for three years. The vast majority of people who play professional baseball, even ones who never make the major leagues, dominated in college, putting up numbers more associated with video games than reality. Duda was not one of them, as he put up a 208/322/299 slash line as a freshman in 2005, a 298/391/398 as a sophomore in 2006, and a 280/378/468 line as a junior in 2007. While his numbers look good as a sophomore and a junior, the USC Trojans team hit a composite 313/398/423 slash line in 2006 and 286/369/399 in 2007.
Nevertheless, Omar Minaya and his staff saw something and drafted Duda with the 29th pick of the 7th round (243rd overall) of the 2007 draft, signed him for $85,000, and assigned him to the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season A affiliate in the New York Penn League. Duda put up a tremendous 299/398/462 slash line in 67 games, resulting in Baseball America ranking Duda the #29 prospect in the Mets system. In 2008, the Mets assigned Duda to the St. Lucie Mets, their affiliate in the High A Florida State League, a league that is traditionally difficult on hitters. Duda had a solid year in St. Lucie, putting up a 263/358/398 line with 11 home runs. For context, only three hitters hit more than 15 home runs, Ryan Strieby, Brian Dopirak, and Juan Francisco; Brennan Boesch hit 7 in 461 PA, J.P. Arencibia and Logan Morrison hit 13 each. After the season Baseball America rated Duda the #20 prospect in their system.
In 2009, Duda was assigned to the Binghamton Mets in the AA Eastern League, where he put up a 281/380/428 line across 110 games. In mid August, Duda strained his knee, keeping him out for the next two weeks. Though Duda’s line showed impressive patience, it lacked power, something a slow-footed 1B/OF must show in order to get promoted. Duda failed to make Baseball America’s list of top 30 Mets prospects and returned to Binghamton to start 2010. Primarily playing left field with Nick Evans, Josh Satin, and Marshall Hubbard manning the first sack, Duda crushed AA pitching, putting up a 286/411/503 line across 45 games before being promoted to the International League’s Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ AAA affiliate in mid-June. Duda hit even more in AAA, putting up a 314/389/610 line in 70 games in Buffalo, while primarily playing left field, with Mike Jacobs and Nick Evans (he was promoted in early July) primarily playing first base. The Mets brought Duda up when rosters expanded in September, showing patience, power, and a massive hole in his swing while putting up a 202/261/417 line across 29 games, all in left field. Suddenly, baseball writers took notice, with Baseball America ranking Duda the Mets’ #7 prospect and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo naming Lucas Duda the Organizational Player of the Year for putting up a 304/398/569 line across AA and AAA with 23 homers and 87 RBI.
2011 started with Duda playing for the Mets as Jason Bay missed the first part of the season. After being sent back to Buffalo on April 10, Duda returned to the Mets for two days in early May, but for the most part remained in Buffalo for two months with Jason Bay in left field and Ike Davis at first base for the Mets. Duda put up an impressive 302/414/597 line with ten home runs in 38 games while playing 16 games in right field, 18 games in left field, and 8 games at first base. Called up by the Mets on June 9, Duda proved that he belonged in the big leagues. Splitting time between first base (43 games, 37 starts) and right field (42 games, 38 starts), with a little bit of left field mixed in (4 games, all starts), Duda put up an impressive 292/370/482 line before being shut down for the season in late September after crashing into a wall.
In 2012, Duda has been the Mets primary right fielder, putting up a 256/337/436 line while playing some of the worst outfield defense in the league with a -7.2 UZR and a -50.4 UZR/150 (according to Fangraphs), which would absolutely destroy Manny Ramirez’s -28.3 UZR/150, which is the worst defender since 2002, as calculated by Fangraphs. I don’t mean to pick on Duda, but having seen outfields of Endy Chavez, Carlos Beltran, and Cliff Floyd or Shawn Green, or Beltran, Floyd, and Mike Cameron, it is stark how little ground Duda covers and how poor his routes to batted balls often happen to be. That being said, Duda is being paid large sums of money to hit, and that he has done at a rate higher than the average major leaguer.
So what should we expect from Duda going forward? I think Duda will be a solid #5 or #6 hitter going forward, but I don’t think he will ever become an elite #3 or #4 hitter, and if a team is forced to rely upon his bat too much, they could be in for a lot of trouble. As big as Duda is, and as long as his swing appears to be, Duda does not strike out that much, only striking out 57 times in 347 PA in 2011. Of course, in Duda’s slower start in 2012, he has struck out 21 times in 22 games, meaning that his low strike out rate in 2011 may have been a mirage due to pitchers not being familiar with Duda.
That being said, any contribution from Duda is impressive – he is one of three 7th round picks from the 2007 draft to make the majors, with Orioles outfielder Matt Angle (#219 overall) appearing in 31 games in 2011, and Diamondbacks pick Bryan Augenstein (#223) appearing in 7 games with the Diamondbacks in 2009 and 5 games with the Cardinals in 2011. It’s also important to note that Duda is one of the two Mets picks in the first 20 rounds (23 overall) of the 2007 draft that made the major leagues. The other is Mets’ supplemental first round pick (#42 overall) Eddie Kunz, who has, to put it mildly, not pitched up to his draft status. Of course, before saying that Duda was the best pick in the 2007 draft for the Mets, it’s necessary to note that Duda has produced 0.8 WAR (according to Baseball Reference), but 21st round pick Dillon Gee has produced 2.3 WAR.
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