It’s no secret that the primary strength of the Mets farm system is in its outfielders. One big (literally) reason for that is Lucas Duda, who made his big league debut this past September with the Mets, capping off his best season as a professional. After a slow and sluggish start to his big league career, Duda finally caught on and finished the season strong, getting his average over .200, which was quite the accomplishment considering his start in the big leagues, to go along with his 10 extra-base hits in 29 games for the Mets.
Duda possesses the power that major league teams search for and covet. However, it’s been a long road to become major league ready for Duda, with his development coming at a slow and steady pace. During the first three years of his professional career, Duda showed mere flashes of his power potential while striking out far too often. When 2010 began, he was barely a blip on the prospect radar. But then Duda exploded with the bat, hitting more home runs in 2010 than his previous three years combined, while also lowering his strikeout rate and producing the highest on-base percentage of his career. This performance earned Duda his well-deserved September call up to the big leagues.
Now going into 2011, where does Duda stand? At first glance, his chances to break spring training with the major league club don’t appear too good. Although he was a little better than advertised last September, he is not strong defensively. He is limited to playing either first base or left field, where he is sitting behind Ike Davis and Jason Bay respectively: two guys that the Mets can’t afford to take out of the lineup. At both of his positions, saying Duda is an average defender would be considered a stretch, which should make playing time even harder to come by, especially at spacious Citi Field. There’s no doubt that Duda must settle for a spot on the Mets bench if he’s going to make their opening day roster, but with his defensive liabilities and lack of flexibility, as well as the competition he’ll face, there may not be room for Lucas Duda and his power bat on the Mets opening day roster.
However, there is plenty that Duda can contribute to the Mets organization in 2011. In fact, staying in the minor leagues to begin the season may be the way to get the most value out of Duda. One thing the Mets have been lacking in the past few years, and an area where they have been exposed, is not having major league ready players in the farm system to step in if one of their regulars heads to the disabled list. That is exactly what Duda would represent in AAA for the Mets: a guy who is ready to play every day in replacement of an injured player. He would be able to fill in for either Jason Bay or Ike Davis in case either needs to miss an extended period of time. As discussed earlier, there would be a drop off with Duda playing at either of these positions, especially defensively. However, he does have the power to make up for some of his shortcomings in other areas. Also, using Duda as a replacement is a far more desirable option than taking a bench player and turning him into an everyday player, which would significantly weaken the bench. Such a scenario would make Duda an important part of the Mets plans in 2011, even if that means him starting the season in AAA.