Nats Deal for Dukes

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 04, 2007 | | 0 comments »

Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden announced today that the Nats have acquired outfielder Elijah Dukes from Tampa Bay for minor league left-handed pitcher Glenn Gibson.

Dukes, 23, an immensely talented player, is routinely considered one of the top hitting prospects in all of baseball. However, his talent is overshadowed by on- and off-field negative incidents that cloud his once-promising MLB future.

This past May he was accused of threatening his wife and child's life via voice message, going so far as to send his estranged wife a picture of a handgun on her cell phone. The police report for that incident stated that police have been asked to deal with domestic violence issues between the two on at least four occasions dating back to 2003.

He was placed on Tampa Bay's Temporary Inactive List in June following the incident, and did not appear with them the rest of the season.

Prior to that incident, Dukes was arrested and charged for marijuana possession in January of 2007. In 2006, he was suspended for 15 games while with AAA Durham for disciplinary reasons and suspended another 5 games by the International League after needing to be restrained after being ejected for arguing balls and strikes. He finally received a 30 game suspension by the Tampa Bay organization for cumulative offenses.

More recently, Dukes was involved in an incident in a Dominican League game just last week. After being called out of strikes, he reacted angrily and was ejected after going after the umpire, once again needing to be restrained by teammates and coaches. He has since left his Dominican League team citing the need to return home for the holidays. Nats third base coach Tim Tolman was Dukes' manager in the Dominican League.

In their official press release, Nationals President Stan Kasten stated, "Let me emphasize that though Elijah's history may be very different from other players on our team, he will very definitely be held to the same high standards. We believe the Nationals clubhouse, manager, organization, and fans give Elijah Dukes his best chance to succeed and grow."

Dukes, a right handed hitter, is a bona fide five-tool athlete. In just 184 at bats last year for the Rays, he hit 10 home runs and drove in 21, despite .190/.318/.391 averages. He was one of just two AL rookies to hit 10 or more home runs last season. In parts of four minor league seasons, his averages were .284/.368/.454, with 45 homers, 225 RBIs and 91 steals in 418 games. Dukes was Tampa Bay's third round selection in the 2002 Amateur Draft out of Hillsborough (FL) High School, which has produced many major leaguers, including Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and the Orioles' Chris Ray.

Gibson, 19, played for the Vermont Lake Monsters in Low-A last season. He was 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 58 innings pitched. He is a control pitcher with a decent curve and is projected as a back-end starter.

BOTTOM LINE: Nats GM Jim Bowden loves to take on reclamation projects, and Dukes certainly fits the bill. While his talent is unquestioned, there is quite a bit of rehabilitation to do on his public image. The Nats didn't give up equal talent to land Dukes, which goes a long way to describe his unpleasant history in Tampa. Bowden says in the official press release, "The support of our manager, coaches, front office and active players were a major factor in this decision. Our organization is determined to help Elijah turn his life around off the field and continue his development as a player." If Manny Acta, Dmitri Young and others can be a calming influence on this misguided youth, the Nats have added to their more-impressive-by-the-day stable of outfield talent. We eagerly await Bowden's next move.