The Lost Potential of Elijah Dukes

Elijah Dukes has been arrested yet again. From the AP (via ESPN.com):

TAMPA, Fla. — Authorities say former Major League Baseball player Elijah Dukes has been jailed in Tampa on charges related to allegedly failing to pay child support.

Hillsborough County jail records show the one-time outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals was arrested Monday on contempt of court charges. He remained in jail Tuesday.

The Rays have had quite the stock of young outfielders roll through their farm system. Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton have roamed the Trop in Rays uniforms. Rocco Baldelli had star potential before mitochondrial issues derailed his career. Josh Hamilton become one of the game’s best story in Cincinnati and then Texas, and Delmon Young is now a major part of the Minnesota Twins outfield.

Dukes was a prospect on the same level of those players. Every scouting report noted Dukes as an elite athlete with the bat to back it up. Dukes struggled in his first year in the minors – probably to be expected of a 19-year-old in A ball – but after that, Dukes put up an .830 OPS at every level with a combination of solid discipline and good power.

But every scouting report also noted his makeup issues. As much as his talent warranted unbridled optimism, his off-field issues loomed as a constant limit. Prior to reaching his Major League debut in 2007, Dukes had already been arrested multiple times. Dukes was also ejected five times in the 2005 season and, in 2006, received a combined 35 games worth of suspensions from the International League and the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

Dukes struggled in his first MLB stint with Tampa, putting up a .190/.318/.391 (.191 BABIP) line in 220 plate appearances. That performance is not as terrible as the batting average makes it look, but it is also certainly not the way a top prospect hopes to enter the Major Leagues, as Dukes finished the year with -0.2 WAR. He was eventually listed by the Devil Rays as day-to-day for “personal reasons” in mid-June, and placed on the inactive list for the rest of the season by the end of the month, effectively ending his season, and as it turned out, his time with the Rays organization.

Rays GM Andrew Friedman said that the time on the inactive list was meant to “take some time away from the field and to focus on his personal life, re-evaluate everything, and most importantly allow him an opportunity away from the spotlight.” Apparently, the Rays weren’t willing to go forward with Dukes in the organization. They traded him away to the Washington Nationals for Glenn Gibson, a left handed minor leaguer who has, as of this season, yet to pitch above A ball.

The Rays shot up to contention, the playoffs, and eventually the World Series in 2008, but Dukes had his own breakout year in Washington. In 334 plate appearances, Dukes posted a spectacular .264/.386/.478 (.323 BABIP) line while playing solid defense in the corners for the Nationals. Dukes walked in 15% of plate appearances and showed power, putting up a .231 ISO. Overall, Dukes’s season was worth 2.9 WAR in a mere 334 plate appearances, making him easily the best player on the Nationals roster on a per-game basis. That kind of pace equated Dukes with all-stars like Evan Longoria and Joe Mauer. Unfortunately, injuries limited Dukes’s on-field time, as he missed games due to hamstring, knee, and calf injuries to his right leg.

Even with the injuries, it’s hard to deny the merit of the performance we saw from Dukes in 2008. Despite that, Dukes spent opening day of 2009 on the bench, a decision which Dave tore apart at the time. For whatever reason, be it nagging effects from the injuries or mental issues or simply regression, Dukes couldn’t maintain the production that had Nationals fans and baseball observers alike chomping at the bit to see more of the outfielder in 2009. Instead, Dukes put up a meager .250/.337/.393 (.291 BABIP) line with poor defense in right field, finishing below replacement level yet again. By the time the 2010 season and another chance at star-level performance would come around, Dukes was released by the Nationals.

Dukes hasn’t played professional baseball since then. One has to imagine that the loss of his father to cancer merely months after his release from jail affected Dukes through the 2009 season and through 2010 as he dealt with and was eventually cut loose by the Washington organization. Dukes will only be 27 in June of 2011, but the fact that not a single organization was willing to gamble on him probably signified the end of a shockingly and unfortunately short MLB career. If that was not yet the case, this arrest is probably the final nail in the coffin.

Elijah Dukes was a tremendous talent who should be entering the prime of his career this season. The word “disappointing” doesn’t even begin to sum up the situation. Unfortunately for all parties involved, the Elijah Dukes that showed so much promise is no longer a part of baseball, now replaced by occasional negative headlines and reminders of what should have been.



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Pedro
Guest
Pedro
5 years 7 months ago

Dukes did play “professional baseball” after his release by Washington this year. He was with Newark in the Atlantic League, decent independent ball at roughly the AA-AAA level. Good play in the AL has been rewarded with MLB contracts.

Schu
Member
Schu
5 years 7 months ago

Failure to pay child support when he’s out of work… It’s not like he committed assault or got a DUI or something. The man is good enough at swinging a bat that some team should take a shot with him.

sporkless
Guest
sporkless
5 years 7 months ago

Schu, he’s a much more screwed up person than you think: http://bit.ly/9KzIO3

Vlad
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Yeah. Let he among us who hasn’t threatened to take a gun and murder his own children out of spite cast the first stone.

this guy
Guest
this guy
5 years 7 months ago

Some team will take a shot eventually. I think he will resurface as a 4th OF someday. He’s good enough even at 65% of his capacity.

Vlad
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Actually, Dukes HAS played professional ball since being released by the Nats. It just wasn’t in the affiliated minors. He signed with the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League on July 1, though he was suspended about a month later for an undisclosed infraction.

Vlad
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

D’oh, Pedro beat me to it.

Chris
Guest
Chris
5 years 7 months ago

*champing at the bit ;)

B N
Guest
B N
5 years 7 months ago

It’s unfortunate, but Dukes has been a troubled and dangerous man since his teen years. More than even his playing career, it’s a sobering thought to think that he’s still somewhere in the thrashes of a troubled and destructive life. This is a guy who’s had at least 5 children with 4 women. Whatever his baseball legacy is, you have think his legacy as a father is what is going to be all that anybody remembers in 30 years. And from the sound of it, that’s turning out to be a sad story too. His FAR (Fathering Above Replacement) is low, but it’s not nearly as easy to just pick up a new dad on the waiver wire. Here’s to hoping those kids can get the support they need growing up.

Larry Smith Jr.
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

This is an excellent comment.

Magick Sam
Guest
Magick Sam
5 years 7 months ago

Baldelli doesn’t have mitochondrial issues; that was a misdiagnosis. The diagnosis now seems to be that he’s suffering from something called channelopathy.

rwerrtrterwerert
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

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Eric
Guest
Eric
5 years 7 months ago

Forget the tragedy of his career as a baseball player, Dukes’s story is a tragedy because he’s obviously a troubled human being who needs help in ways beyond just getting a minor league contract with an MLB organization by Spring training. I hope he gets help and that someone can get through to him.

Ty
Guest
Ty
5 years 7 months ago

I hope a MLB team takes a shot on Dukes. I feel bad for the guy. Yeah he’s a moron but you’re only a product of your environment. I still think his talent can’t be overshadowed by his idiotic actions. If I were a MLB GM i’d take a gamble on him and set boundaries before he even signs his name on the dotted line….Good luck Elijah and hope to see you only move forward from here…

Marilou Nottingham
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

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bc2208
Member
bc2208
4 years 4 months ago

…wtf?

Subversive
Guest
Subversive
4 years 4 months ago

Spambot.

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