Embattled Dukes On The Move

The Deal
Troubled outfielder Elijah Dukes joined the Nationals Dec. 3 in a trade with the Rays for lefthander Glenn Gibson. Washington general manager Jim Bowden now has acquired three talented, but largely unproven, outfielders in the last four months, adding Dukes to a stable of Wily Mo Pena and Lastings Milledge.

The Big Leaguer
Dukes, 23, has attracted more publicity for his behavior than for his ability. But when your resume includes a spate of domestic problems and a history of anger-related issues, it’s easy to see why. On the field, Dukes, a third-round pick in 2002 from a Hillsborough, Fla., high school, has enough raw power, speed and command of the strike zone to profile as an above-average regular on an outfield corner. He hit just .190/.318/.391 with 10 home runs in 184 at-bats as a rookie center fielder in 2007, but his tools and minor league track record suggest he’s capable of more—if he can stay on the field. The Devil Rays optioned Dukes to the minors and placed him on the inactive list in June after the outfielder called a Tampa Bay radio station to defend himself against charges by his estranged wife that he had threatened to kill her and the couple’s children. Dukes did not return to the big leagues for the remainder of the year.

The Prospect
Gibson, 20, is the son of former major league lefthander Paul Gibson. He receives outstanding reviews for his command, his ability to change speeds and his tremendous makeup. The 2006 fourth-rounder struck out 58 batters in 58 innings, walking 15 and posting a 3.10 ERA for short-season Vermont. Gibson’s numbers might have been even better had he not been roughed up in his final two outings when he was pitching through mononucleosis. He ranked eighth in the Nationals system, sixth among pitchers and fourth among lefthanders.

Gibson’s advanced pitchability and command currently stand out more than his stuff. His fastball peaks at 91 mph, and though he is 6-foot-4, he doesn’t project to add any more velocity. His changeup is a plus pitch, and his curveball can be above average at times, though it lacks consistency. According to Gibson, he never threw a curveball until age 15 because his father wanted to protect his arm and to make his son focus on locating his pitches.

Quick Take
Getting Dukes out of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where he grew up, can be nothing but good for him. He was faring well in the Dominican Winter League until a Nov. 29 blow-up with an umpire, during which Dukes had to be restrained by teammates. With three starting-caliber outfielders already under contract for 2008, it’s unclear where Dukes would fit in the Nationals’ mix, assuming he makes the big league club out of spring training.

" Trade Central 2007