For today's edition of Minor League Monday we're going to stick with the interview theme, this time with the top performer in the entire farm system from 2010, Mets rookie outfielder Lucas Duda. Among other things, we get into his sudden surge in power, Carlos Beltran's leadership ability, playing at USC and why the Samson & Delilah story is actually full of crap. To hear the interview, press on the 'Play' button below or follow this link.
Read on below the break for a transcribed version of the full interview:
Rob: First off I wanted to say congratulations on a big-time career season for you. You started off in Binghamton where you were an All-Star, you moved up to Buffalo where you were even better and I think you were the MVP there. You ended up getting the Mets Sterling Award as the top minor league player in the organization and you made your major league debut in September. What was it like to have such a big breakout season this year?
Lucas: It felt pretty good, it was just one of those seasons. And hopefully I can go out next year and wherever I'm at help the team win, any way I can.
Rob: Obviously you kind of had a bit of a bumpy start to your major league career where you had that 1-for-33 stretch. Was that just nerves or was that bad luck...?
Lucas: I think that was a mixture of the nerves (and) getting used to new surroundings. And to be honest with you I was extremely nervous; I was shaking. I can't even explain it right now. It was an unbelievable feeling to even be there and then to play was a great experience but as the season progressed I think I got a little more comfortable. But you're still in the big leagues and you're kind of shocked or at least I was. Playing against guys I'd seen, I was a bit starstruck. But hopefully if I can get back there again this year, I think I can kind of calm those nerves down and help the team.
Rob: Fortunately, you did break right out of that funk, you hit really well down the stretch. It must have felt really nice to know you could hit in the majors, especially when you that first home run. And then of all the guys to hit it off of, it was Tommy Hanson from the Braves who is not too shabby. How did that feel?
Lucas: Yeah, I actually faced Tommy Hanson in high school. He's actually a friend of mine too. I guess it was just one of those swings where I happened to hit it well and it left the park. Tommy's a great pitcher and I feel lucky just to get a base-hit off him. I'm just trying to make good, solid contact off him and I did and luckily the ball left the yard and that's all there is to it really.
Rob: Now I mentioned you had a big year in 2010 but coming into the season the one knock on you, even going back to your days at USC, was that you always had good contact but you didn't always show the kind of power that people expected from a big, strong, 6'4" first baseman. Then of course this year you blow up for 27 home runs and you ended up hitting four in the majors. So what was the change? Did you make any changes with your swing or did it just happen...?
Lucas: I've been working with the hitting coaches at Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues and it was staying aggressive and sticking to my approach. I feel if I can do that I have good chance to put up some good numbers, at least for a big guy. Maybe I can hit fifteen to whatever it is but I think the overall approach and the aggressiveness kind of separated me from the past couple of years where my home runs have been very unimpressivess, they've been nine, ten-kind of years.
Rob: Now I wanted to ask you about an oft-discussed topic for the Mets, the clubhouse. I'm sure you had a couple friends in there from the minors but I'm wondering how the veterans treated you, any rookie hazing? How did you find it up there?
Lucas: No hazing, but all the guys were unbelievable. I mean they're always trying to help you out, they probably got tired of me asking questions. All the guys were just unbelievable. Not to single him out but Carlos Beltran helped me out when I was in that 1-for-30 or 1-for-35 or whatever it was, he kind of took me aside and said 'Hey, relax' and offered me some more words of wisdom. And I ate it right up. It was pretty surreal talking to Carlos Beltran about hitting, that was awesome. But it was pretty unbelievable how great those guys are. They're great ballplayers but they're even better people, that's the biggest thing. It was a wonderful experience being around those guys, it was a real pleasure.
Rob: That's interesting to hear that because Beltran is one of those guys where fans see in the field that he doesn't show his emotions that much so people think that he's too quiet and not enough of a leader but from the sounds of it in the clubhouse he really can be.
Lucas: Yeah, he's an unbelievable guy. In the little time I've known him - only about a month - I can't say enough about him. He's a true professional, he's a workaholic. It's just fun to be around a guy like that, just to learn and watch him, how he goes about his business. He's the real definition of a true professional. It's an honor to be in the same clubhouse as him...and most of those guys, ALL of those guys.
Rob: I don't know how much exposure you were able to have with (Terry Collins) last season in his role as the Minor League Field Coordinator but, have you worked with him in the past and what do you think of the hiring?
Lucas: I think Terry is an absolute great guy, great baseball guy. Very compassionate and a lot of passion for the game. I think everybody can learn a lot from him and hopefully I do get the chance to learn from him and play for him. He's an unbelievable guy too and it seems to be top to bottom in the Mets organization, there's a bunch of great people. And again, I think we're lucky to have Terry as a manager.
Rob: What specifically are you kind of expecting as far as hopefully making the team first off, but then your role if you do make the team? Possible playing time with the Mets? I don't know if that's something you've gotten the chance to talk with any of the new front office guys about, I don't know if you've spoken to Terry since he's been hired, but what are you looking forward coming into this season?
Lucas: Right now I'm just trying to get myself strong and healthy. I'll try to make the team and if it doesn't happen I'll go to Triple-A or Double-A, wherever it is and I'll try to produce and hopefully get back to the big leagues one day. All you have to do is keep fighting and see what's gonna happen because nothing's really promised to you. Especially for a guy like me, I have to keep fighting and clawing it out and if it happens and I make the team out of spring trainging, that's great. If I don't, I'm not gonna give up and I'm gonna keep on fighting 'til I get back to the big leagues or I can't play anymore.
Rob: You mentioned you're starting to get yourself into shape, have you started your offseason routine or are you still in hibernation mode? And what do you actually do for your routine, do you have a whole thing set up where the team tells you what they want or how does that work?
Lucas: Yeah, the Mets give us a booklet and we follow that as closely as we can. I just started hitting December 1st and I just played a little catch too. I just play a few times a week right now to get back into it and as the weeks go on I'll increase the amount of reps and baseball activity. But for now I'm just trying to get back into shape and get strong and healthy.
Rob: In your minor league career, you've moved around the field a little bit; you've played some first, you played some outfield. Where do you feel the most comfortable defensively? What position do you see yourself as?
Lucas: It really doesn't matter to me as long as I play, whatever helps the team. If they think I'm a better first baseman, I'll play first base. If they think I'm a better left fielder, I'll play left field. I'll play catcher. It really doesn't matter to me as long as I'm playing and I'm helping the team out in a positive way. It really doesn't matter to me as long as I'm on the field and I'm helping the team win and that's it.
Rob: So now I've definitely gotten the feeling that you're a west coast guy, you're a Cali. guy through and through it seems like, so how has it been adjusting to the east coast and specifcally how have you like being in New York so far?
Lucas: New York has been pretty awesome. It's a bit cold though, New York is cold especially in the early months. But as the season goes on it's pretty nice, I was actually kind of surprised with the weather. It's a very nice city and hopefully I'll get back there.
Rob: Just feel lucky you're not here right now because it's like 25 degrees out. I'm sure it's beautiful and sunny in California where you're at right now.
Lucas: Yeah it's like 70 right now, I'm looking at the thing in my car...
Rob: Don't even tell me that. I don't even want to hear it. (laughs)
Lucas: Sorry man. (laughs)
Rob: I mentioned you're a USC guy, I'm sure it bummed you out to have Notre Dame beating you guys at home a couple weekends back.
Rob: Is that a sore subject? Maybe I shouldn't have brought it up... (laughs)
Lucas: You know I didn't really watch the game but I heard all about it and I heard it was pretty terrible. But, hey, maybe we'll get UCLA this weekend hopefully.
Rob: Now that's something I thought was interesting, what was it like to play at USC? Because obviously that's such a great baseball program and you played with a couple other major leaguers, I think you played with Ian Kennedy...
Lucas: Yeah, he was my roommate; and Jeff Clement, Grant Green was there too (the A's top prospect). All those guys, they're great baseball people and they're even better people. That's the amazing thing about it. And I don't have enough good things to says about Jeff Clement. He's a one-of-a-kind, a real standup guy and just a great person to be around, all three of those guys really. Great people to be around and great baseball guys, great ballplayers.
Rob: Coming into this season is there any one aspect of your game, offensively, defensively, anything that you're looking to fix up coming into 2011?
Lucas: There's not really one thing, I'd like to improve on everything. There's always room for improvement, especially me because there's a whole truckload of room for improvement. I'd like to get my defense better. And small things, I'd like to do the small things better. Whether that's to get a bunt over or execute a hit-and-run or get a guy over or whatever it maybe be. Just doing the job. Getting the job done. If I do the small things, I think we have a good chance of winning, if we do the small things correct. Defense, hitting, throwing runners out, there's not just one area. There's a lot of work to be done...but I like working so it's not a big deal for me.
Rob: And a couple more of those 400-foot bombs you hit last year wouldn't hurt you either right? (laughs)
Lucas: I think those were wind-aided. (laughs)
Rob: Usually I like to cap these things off with a bit of a lightning round. I'll give you a quick question, you give me a quick answer back, just to get a better feel for you guys off the field a little bit.
Ok, what's your favorite TV show?
Lucas: Favorite TV show...I'm gonna go with Baseball Tonight.
Rob: Me too. The last movie you saw and how'd you like it?
Lucas: The last movie I saw was 'The Town'...and actually I thought that was a pretty good movie.
Rob: Yeah I didn't catch that one but I wanted to, I'll have to Netflix that one. If I turned on your iPod right now, what would be playing?
Lucas: I'm gonna go with probably ...some Kings of Leon.
Rob: Allright, one more, "If I wasn't a baseball player I would be..."
Lucas: Uhh I would probably be...that's a tough one right there. Honestly, that's a tough question. My whole life I've been playing ball so that's all I've really known. But I'd say maybe a firefighter or something like that...
Rob: How about we just keep you on the field? We'll just keep you as a baseball player. (laughs)
Rob: Allright I have one more serious question for you that I had to ask and people have asked this on the website quite a bit as well: What happened to the hair? People loved the mop-top and suddenly it was gone one day...
Lucas: Oh man (laughs), that's an easy response right there. I was whatever it was, 1-for-30, 1-for-35 and I just said 'The heck with it, I gotta switch something up." I tried to switch up my socks, my undershirt, nothing worked. But then when I cut the hair, I think that's when I started to get a couple base knocks. I think the hair was bad luck.
Rob: Ok I see. So we should expect to see you come into spring training with the buzz cut maybe? (laughs)
Lucas: No hair, just bald. Shave it all off. (laughs)
Rob: I like that. (laughs) Well, Lucas I appreciate the time, definitely enjoy the rest of your offseason and we're looking forward to seeing the spring training battle, hopefully you'll make the team and maybe we'll be able to catch up in spring training.