There are many players that have a lot to prove in 2014. Let’s break it down between our position players and pitchers.
Ruben Tejada needs to prove he is a major league shortstop. Daniel Murphy needs to prove he can improve defensively, while maintaining his offensive prowess. Ike Davis needs to prove that Valley Fever isn’t derailing his career the same way it did Connor Jackson’s. Travis d’Arnaud needs to prove he can stay healthy, and live up to his top prospect billing. Wilmer Flores needs to prove he can play a position defensively, or hit enough to play first base. Curtis Granderson needs to prove he can hit home runs outside the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium at age 33. Juan Lagares needs to prove he can hold his own at the plate. Chris Young needs to prove that he isn’t a 4th outfielder at this point in his career, and Eric Young Jr. needs to prove that he can get on base enough to warrant getting his speed into the lineup.
Zack Wheeler needs to prove he can improve his command and pitch deeper into the ballgames. Jon Niese needs to prove he is a top of the rotation pitcher, and that his shoulder is healthy. Bartolo Colon needs to prove he can pitch without the use of PEDs at age 41. Dillon Gee needs to prove that he is the pitcher we saw from the Yankee sweep to the end of the season, instead of the pitcher we saw the first two months of 2013, and Jenrry Mejia needs to prove he can stay healthy enough to pitch in a major league rotation. Bobby Parnell needs to prove he IS a closer at the major league level for a FULL season, and all the young bullpen arms need to prove they belong on the team, but the player who has THE most to prove in 2014 is: Lucas Duda.
Duda mashed the ball coming up through the system, and was one of the best hitters in the NL for the second half of 2011 when he got an extensive look as the team’s first baseman. He struggled at the plate in 2012 as he took his defensive woes from learning to play the outfield with him into the batters box. Duda started the 2013 season hot at the plate, and went 4-4 in his first start at 1B in Atlanta after Ike was sent to AAA. He subsequently strained his oblique, and remained on the DL for all of July and most of August. He’s stated publicly that he wasn’t comfortable playing the outfield, and it really affected his performance at the plate. And yet Terry Collins said he will play him in the outfield anyway in 2014.
A closer look at the numbers shows that Duda’s 2013 season wasn’t bad at all, particularly against RHP (.831 OPS), and he looked comfortable defensively at 1B after getting the opportunity late in the season.
Duda has tremendous power potential and a really good eye at the plate. If he can resemble the Lucas Duda of 2011 that led the NL in OBP after the break in which he hit .291, and continue to improve on the power that he showed in early 2013 by hitting 11 HRs in the first 55 games of the season, then Duda could be a force at 1B for years to come.
I love his patient approach, but he does need to be a bit more aggressive in RBI situations, although I’m not sure he’s getting quite as many “fastballs right down the middle” as we suggest when he’s at the plate with runners on base. He was really good with RISP in 2011 & 2012, so I think the poor numbers in 2013 were due to a small sample size. He should be at 1B in 2014, and its time for Duda to show that he is the power hitting middle of the lineup first baseman we all thought he would become after his stellar 2011 showing. If he doesn’t prove it this year, he will most likely be playing somewhere else in 2015.