I really like Lucas Duda. I can’t quite tell if my affection for Duda is rational or not. Part of it stems from his resemblance to Jim Breur. Part of it stems from the fact he seems likely to weight 300 lbs at some point over the next 10 years (nothing better than a fat baseball player who is somehow still really good). And part of it from the fact that he’s the type of player the Mets have conspicuously lacked in recent years: Corner players who hit for power, get on base, and don’t do much else. I don’t necessarily like watching this type of baseball. I’d much rather watch a team of Jose Reyes’s than a team of Mark Reynolds’s, but if we’re being honest, I recognize it’s tough to score runs unless you get on base and hit for power, and it’s tough to win unless you score runs, so better off guys like Duda than guys like Carlos Gomez or guys like Jeff Franceour. So young guys Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Nick Evans are a breath of fresh air in that sense.
Given that Duda could make the team this year, and may be the 2012 starting RF, just what should we expect from him? We know he doesn’t play good defense, gets on base, and had monstrous power appear seemingly from nowhere nowhere last year at age 24. Adam Dunn’s name gets thrown around, but that’s crazy. Adam Dunn is the Michael Jordan or no-defense, high OBP, high strikeout, big power, fat guys.
Instead, I say look to Jack Cust. In Cust’s last full minor league season he went to the plate 591 times, hit 30 homers, walked 24.2% of the time, struck out 28.1% of the time, and presumably played terrible defense. He was 27.
Duda, last season, at age 24, had just under 300 AAA plate appearences, hit 17 homers, walked 10.4% of the time, struck out 21.6% of the time.
I don’t really know the relative level of the competition in those AAA leagues, nor what kind of parks these were, but Duda basically had a bit more home run power, walked a lot less, struck out significantly less, and was 3 full years younger. Duda could definitely be as good as Jack Cust, and soon.
Cust, if you remember, was pretty good at one point. Duda seems unlikely to be a star, but if he can turn into Cust with a few more homers, less k’s but less walks, you’re probably talking about a 30+ home run, .375 OBP, bad defensive LF/1B. Basically, an above average player who never quite hits All-Star level. That’s not bad. You need guys like that. Remember, Duda is 25, he should reach his peak sooner rather than later. The Mets would not have to seriously pay Duda for at least 5-6 years, at which point he’d be in his 30’s, probably a DH and probably past his prime, meaning the Mets would not feel obligated to overpay him. This is exactly the type of players the Mets need.
For instance, if you go by Wins Above Replacement, Jack Cust was a 3-win player in his best year. Just being a slightly above-average player doesn’t sound great, but if you had 3 WAR player at all 8 positions and 5 starting spots, you’d project to win around 85 games before factoring in bullpen and bench. That’s not bad.
Again, Duda doesn’t need to be a star. But if he can reach the level we’re talking about, he’d join Ike, Josh Thole, Jon Niese and others as an interesting group of young Mets ready to contribute as above-average regulars at the major league level.