By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Lucas Duda, Outfielder, New York Mets
2011 season: 100 G, 301 AB, .292 AVG, 10 HR, 50 RBI, .852 OPS
The first thing you notice about Duda when you see him is his size – at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, he’s hard to miss. With that frame comes power, even if he didn’t show loads of it last year. The Mets might not have a lot to look forward to about the upcoming season, but Duda’s progression will definitely be something to watch.
One of the problems for Duda last year wasn’t with his game but with the stadium that he played half of his games in. Citi Field is notorious for sapping power from hitters, and Duda was no exception. Though he performed well at home – batting .317 with an .846 OPS – he launched just two of his 10 dingers in the Mets’ ballpark. With the team moving in its outfield walls in significantly during the offseason, Duda’s power should no longer be hampered so much by his home stadium.
That bodes well for the 26-year-old outfielder, since he already has pretty much every other facet of hitting down. He displayed exceptional patience in his first extended taste of the Majors last year, and he’s always been able to hit for average. The only times in his professional career that he failed to hit at least .280 was in his first full season in 2008 and during 29-game rookie stint with the Mets in 2010, when nerves might have gotten the best of him.
The parts of Duda’s game that actually are problems are his speed and defense, with the former affecting the latter. He’s never going to provide any value on the basepaths – in fact, just being average on the basepaths would be an accomplishment for him – and he also plays a pretty ugly outfield. Still, those deficiencies are to be expected from a player in Duda’s mold. A lot of corner outfielders aren’t great with the glove; they simply make up for it with their bats. Duda would probably have more value as a slugging first baseman, as his defense was better there last year, but Ike Davis has already claimed that position on the Mets.
Ultimately, it’s safe to say that Duda is due for a breakout in 2012 and that he might become the best story of the Mets’ season. Given a full year at the Major League level in the team’s friendlier confines, Duda has the potential to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. Combine that with a .300 average and a strong on-base percentage, and you’ve got a player who is an All-Star hitter. Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes left this offseason, leaving a void that will be hard for New York to fill, but Duda will do his part to replace some of their production.
Next up on March 18: Philadelphia Phillies