2014 Spring Training: Will Lucas Duda or Ike Davis win New York Mets’ 1B Job?

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets have plenty of holes to fill this season and are holding plenty of spring training competitions to help fill them. Among the key position battles are at first base, where one-time wunderkind Ike Davis will try to keep his job from lone wanderer Lucas Duda, who is just looking for somewhere to play ball.

After a stellar rookie campaign in 2010 (147 GP, .264 BA, 19 HRs, 71 RBIs), fans envisioned Davis’ devastating power and remarkable glove would be entrenched at first base for a decade to come. In 2011 he started hot, establishing a Mets’ record with a RBI in nine of his first 10 games.

Thirty-six games into the season, batting a cool .302, Davis rolled his ankle in a collision with David Wright and missed the rest of the year.

His career has gone wrong ever since.

2012 saw his batting average dip to the second-lowest among qualified players (.159 on May 24) before some hot stretches helped him finish the year at .227. Davis’ power numbers were encouraging, 32 HRs and 90 RBIs, giving fans reason to hope 2013 would be the year he put it all together.

No such luck.

Last season was his worst so far, a .205/9/33 “effort” that resulted in a triple-A demotion, being aggressively shopped during the winter and Duda with a better-than-even shot at wresting the first base position from him.

There’s no question that Davis has the edge in talent, but there is clearly something missing from his tool box. Has the pressure of New York gotten into his head?

Speaking of Lucas Duda, who also first played for the Mets in 2010, you’ve gotta appreciate his determination. After debuting as a late-September call up, Duda put in 301 AB with the Mets next year, batting .292 with an OBP of .370, splitting nearly even time between first (323.1 innings) and the outfield (364.1).

He also played 38 games for the Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ triple-A affiliate, however those bus-riding days seemed behind Duda as he was named the starting right fielder for the 2012 season.

Ah, something about “the best-laid plans” comes to mind next. Batting .269 with a team-high 11 home runs through June 26th, Duda crashed and burned his way back to the minors with a .138 average and only 1 HR from then until July 24. He came back to the Mets in late August, though a broken wrist in October (while moving furniture, obviously not while playing important baseball games) kept Duda limited until spring training.

2013 was more of the same for Duda: back-and-forth between leagues, “regressing” defensive abilities (to put it kindly), with good numbers (.223/.352/.415) and decent pop (15 HRs in 318 AB) — for a utility infielder with a solid glove.

Now Duda’s in spring training saying he’s ten pounds slimmer and ready to show he can be an every-day MLB starter.

Davis says he concealed an oblique injury last season and will prove that he’s still the can’t-miss kid from just a couple years ago.

Barring a trade, I say Davis will win the job. He has to show it on the field, of course, but there’s too much proven talent there to give up on him quite yet. Duda can hit 30 home runs in a season; Davis has done it. And even if they’re similar at the plate, Davis has a huge lead defensively. Ike’s biggest issue is perception; how far he is from our initial expectations, but that shouldn’t cloud the fact he’s the best first baseman on the current roster.

With so many questions coming into the 2014 season, you’d hope this one would have an easy answer. When the games get started, I think it will. Lucas Duda is a fine player and I wish him well. As long as he doesn’t end up with the Florida Marlins – the Mets have enough bad mojo going on with the fish and don’t need Duda pulling a Bucky Dent on them in Game 163.

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