The Mets have not had the same primary right fielder for more than two consecutive seasons since Darryl Strawberry patrolled that portion of Shea Stadium from 1983-90. With the recent trade of Jeff Francoeur, who has led the team in games played there each of the last two seasons, the Mets remain in search of right field stability.
Enter Lucas Duda.
Now, this proposal does go out on a limb. After all, Duda has yet to produce a hit at the major league level and primarily has played left field since being drafted by the Mets in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. However, the Mets would be wise to find a place for this guy in the near future considering his .304 average, 23 home runs and 87 RBI at the highest levels of the minors this year.
Left field certainly does not appear to be an option with Jason Bay locked up through 2013. Center field could open up once Carlos Beltran‘s seven-year, $119 million contract expires at the end of next season, but that position would be a stretch considering Duda’s 240-pound frame. Duda has played some first base in the minors, but Ike Davis seems likely to hold down the fort there for the foreseeable future.
That leaves right field, a position not entirely foreign to Duda. He does have nine errorless games under his belt there during his minor league career. A pitcher who could reach 90 miles per hour with his fastball in high school, Duda also has the arm strength for the position. Given the nifty play he made to rob Atlanta Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez of extra bases on Thursday night, he does not appear to be a defensive liability.
The bottom line is that the Mets really could use some thump from the right field position. Strawberry averaged 31.5 home runs and 91.2 RBI per season during his eight-year tenure there. In 20 years since, the 16 different primary right fielders for the Mets have averaged just 13.6 homers and 50.7 RBI. The only two to drive in at least 70 runs in a season were Bobby Bonilla (1992-93) and Butch Huskey (1997). Aside from Bonilla’s 34 homers in 1993 and Huskey’s 24 in 1997, the only other 20-homer season from the Mets’ primary right fielder during span came from Richard Hidalgo, who hit 21 in 2004.
Among the biggest hurdles facing Duda as the heir apparent in right is his lack of experience at the position, but consider that Roger Cedeno made just 23 appearances in right field through 311 major league games before playing in 127 games there for the Mets in 1999. This is not to suggest that Duda is destined to become the team’s first sub-.400 slugging everyday right fielder since Cedeno in 2003. Rather, it illustrates that transitioning to right field from elsewhere in the outfield, or on the diamond for that matter, is far from unprecedented. Bonilla moved there from third base in 1990, when he was runner-up to Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Barry Bonds in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.
One thing going for Duda is a lack of competition from within the organization beyond next year. Angel Pagan seems like a strong candidate to be the Mets’ everyday right fielder next year, but he could slide over to center if/when Beltran departs following the 2011 season. Provided the Mets do not address the ensuing right field vacancy via free agency or trade and the development of fellow outfield prospect Fernando Martinez continues to stall, the job could belong to Duda in 2012.
From there, Duda might just become the first Met since Strawberry to call right field home for a substantial amount of time.
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