So the story is the Nats have obtained Elijah Dukes. This isn’t terribly surprising, Capital Punishment has been reporting that the front office has been eyeing him for months. There, it has also been noted that he has had a few attitude problems, and they’ve basically given a “no thanks” to the idea. I tend to agree with that assessment. Here is the list of pros and cons I can see from this deal.
- He’s hit at every level in the minors. In 2006 he hit .293/.401/.488 in AAA at the age of 22. His numbers in AA the year before were similar, except with much fewer BB/AB and consequently, lower OBP. So his plate discipline has improved, while his AVG and SLG has been consistently high.
- The go-to reference on prospects, Baseball America, said this about him in 2006: “He’s one of the strongest players in baseball and also has the ability to control the strike zone. He combines his above-average speed and an aggressive approach to shine on the basepaths and in the outfield. He also has a strong arm, adding to his right-field profile.“
- He has the potential to be a great RF, with power, speed and plate discipline. A young Bobby Abreu is the comparison that comes to mind. He is the classic 5 tool prospect and could be a really special player.
- Attitude on the field. This probably shouldn’t be listed as just one con, it should be listed as several. But I’ll try to fit it all in here. The most recent incident was that Dukes was ejected in a Dominican Winter League game, went after the umpire, and had to be restrained. He was suspended at least 5 times in 2006. He’s been suspended for altercations with umpires, refusing to leave the dugout after being tossed, altercations with his own coaches and fighting with a teammate. There are others, but frankly I’m getting tired of researching his suspensions.
- Legal problems/attitude off the field. According to wikipedia, he’s been arrested SIX times since 1998. SIX! He also allegedly called his ex-wife and left a voicemail threatening to MURDER HER AND HER KIDS. He supposedly impregnated a 17 year old foster child staying with his family in 2007 and then at some point threw a bottle of gatorade at her. He’s violated protection orders filed by his wife and has had to be threatened with jail time in order to pay. He has been charged with assault and with battery several times, as recently as 2006. He has been in trouble for driving under the influence of alcohol, and marijuana possession.
- Intelligence. Not only was he a terrible enough person to threaten to kill his wife, he was dumb enough to LEAVE A VOICEMAIL SAYING IT.
When I first wrote this article, I said the trade (Dukes for a player to be named later) was no-talent for serious talent. Instead they traded away Glenn Gibson. Baseball America named him #8 on their list of top 10 Nats prospects. They said he’d be a back of the rotation starter, and he had a great K/BB ratio considering he has a fastball only in the high-80s. BA notes that he gets by on smarts rather than talent. I still think the Nats got the better end of the talent deal, but they didn’t give up garbage, which is a little annoying.
People can always change, get a better attitude, clean up their act, and become a better person. Dukes has serious potential to be a great player, he also has serious potential to go to prison. I know the Nationals believe that they can take good guys who have had rough lives and give them a second or a third chance to make things better. Dmitri Young is an example of someone who had attitude problems and is now considered a respected veteran that young players can and should look up to and learn from. Well, hopefully Dmitri has a thing or two to teach Dukes, because this kid is completely lost.
Personally, I have a hard time believing Dukes is going to live up to his potential. I give it at least a 50% chance of doing nothing but embarrassing a new organization that doesn’t need the kind of attention he will bring when he commits another crime or goes after another umpire/coach/player. I hope they are giving him a zero tolerance policy in terms of on-field actions, and they better give him one in terms of future crimes. Even if he cleans up his act, it’s not quite the same as when we were talking about Milledge last week. I said “Let’s be honest, if he’s a bastard but hits .350, Nats fans will figure out a way to like him.” Well, I think being a bastard is different than being a criminal. I have a tough time accepting someone who has done the things he has done.
On the flip side, if Dukes can clean up his act, an OF of Milledge, Dukes, and Pena would be killer. Young and talented, a great combo of power, speed, and defense. And that is obviously what Bowden is envisioning. But that is a best case scenario, and it is hard for me to see it coming true. And even if he does stay out of trouble, I think it will take serious effort on his part to change people’s minds about him. He will always be the guy that did the things he did, and just stopping acting out doesn’t change that. He’ll have to go out of his way, probably with a combination of charity work, admitting mistakes, apologizing and more charity work to distance himself even slightly from his past.
Oh yeah, a couple of more “pros” from this deal… if anyone was silly enough to think that Milledge was anything more than a cocky young man with a big mouth, this should show them that his issues are pretty minor. Also, the Nats have been publicly interested in Dukes since this summer, and back then, it looked like they had to trade a real prospect. Management’s patience gave Dukes more time to get into more trouble, both on and off the field, allowing the Nats to get him for almost nothing.