Mets Find Their Catcher In Lo Duca

By Matt Meyers
December 5, 2005

For the second time in two weeks, the Marlins traded one of their big league regulars to the Mets for two prospects, this time sending catcher Paul Lo Duca to his native New York for and two players to be named–one of whom is reported to be righthander Gaby Hernandez.

A late bloomer, Lo Duca did not become a big league regular until 2001, when he was 29. The Arizona State product hit .320/.374/.543 that season but has not approached the same offensive level since, though he has made the National League all-star team each of the last three seasons. A 25th-round pick in 1993, Lo Duca is an adept contact hitter who does not walk or strike out often. He is a career .285 hitter, but his power has seen a precipitous decline as he slugged .380 last season and .376 in 2004.

Defensively, Lo Duca will provide an upgrade over Mike Piazza, but after throwing out a career-high 41 percent of basestealers in 2003, he has thrown out 26 percent over the last two seasons. Lo Duca is due $12.5 million over the next two seasons and was too expensive for the cost-cutting Marlins, who have now shed close to $40 million from their 2005 payroll by trading Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett and Luis Castillo for minor leaguers.

Hernandez provides the Marlins with yet another intriguing young arm. A third-round pick in 2004 out of high school in Miami, Hernandez dominated the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2004 and the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2005 before running into trouble after a promotion to high Class A St. Lucie.

The 19-year-old features a two-seam fastball with excellent life that sits in the low 90s that is his best pitch. He also has a changeup that is currently average, but scouts say it could become an above-average pitch. At this point, his breaking ball is below-average, which was evident in St. Lucie when more advanced hitters batted .298 against him. The key to his future will be his breaking ball. It needs more depth, and he has a tendency to tip it early.

The highlight of Hernandez’ 2005 season was a no-hitter on Father’s Day that clinched a share of the SAL Northern Division’s first half title. He was 6-1, 2.43 at Hagerstown with 99 strikeouts and 30 walks in 93 innings. For St. Lucie, he was 2-5, 5.74 with a 32-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 42 innings.

Dec. 9 update: The Marlins received outfielder Dante Brinkley to finish the trade. Brinkley, 24, signed as a 23rd-round pick in 2003. Generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Brinkley is a scrappy center fielder who broke Bill Mueller’s career stolen base record at Southwest Missouri State. Speed is his best tool. Brinkley split 2005 between low Class A Hagerstown and St. Lucie, hitting .318/.427/.512 with 15 homers, 65 RBIs and 29 steals (albeit in 48 attempts) in 115 games.