After transferring from community college, OF/3B Dustin Lawley was drafted out of the University of West Florida by the Mets in the 19th round of the 2011 draft. At age 22, he played in his first professional campaign; 57 games with rookie-class Kingsport, and 3 games with class-A Savannah. He compiled 69 hits in 243 at-bats, for a .284 batting average, and drew another 14 walks for a .323 OBP. He hit 19 doubles and 10 home runs, on his way towards a .510 slugging average, scored 39 runs, and had 44 RBI.
Lawley spent the entire 2012 season playing for the Savannah Sand Gnats, where he posted a .261 batting average, on 126 hits in 482 official at-bats. He drew an additional 50 walks for a .333 OBP, hit 35 doubles and 14 home runs in recording a .434 slugging average, scored 77 runs, and drove in 66 runs.
In his third minor league season at age 24, Lawley played 122 games for the high-A Port St. Lucie Mets, and as a small reward, was promoted to AAA-Las Vegas for 6 games. In 2013, he set the Florida State League record for home runs in a season with 25, but because of his age, didn’t raise as many eyebrows that perhaps a younger prospect might have. Otherwise, Dustin posted his finest season, batting .262, with a .314 OBP, on 128 hits and 36 walks, in 489 official at-bats. In slugging .513 for the season, he matched his previous year’s total with 35 doubles, hit a career high 26 home runs, and drove in a lofty 96 runs. His final clout of the season punctuated his brief call-up to Las Vegas.
Over his three year minor league career, Dustin averaged 404 at-bats per season, with a .323 OBP. He averaged 16.6 home runs, 68 RBI, and has slugged above .500 in two of his three campaigns. That said, Dustin Lawley will be 25 years old next April, and has yet to play AA ball. So where does he realistically go from here?
I’ll address the other side of the coin, first. We do not operate in a perfect world. Injuries always threaten, seeking to lay even the best laid plans to waste. Above all, there is old fashioned failure. The chance always exists that Lawley is a class-A wonder, who is destined to flop in the face of increased competition. After all, class-AA has long been regarded as the line of demarcation. I doubt he will fail, but that remains to be determined.
Now, if we take into consideration his college experience, his competence at three minor league levels, his age, and, assuming he maintains his current trajectory, it is reasonable to believe Lawley can play well enough to split the 2014 regular season between Binghamton and Las Vegas. Dustin Lawley could then conceivably start for the Mets AAA affiliate opening the 2015 season, and ideally be ready for Flushing by that summer.
Until then, Dustin Lawley has every reason to stay hungry, and hopeful, that he can soon crack the Mets outfield. For the moment, Eric Young, Juan Lagares and Chris Young are the lead players in a very transient situation. Barring another free agent acquisition or trade, the corner outfield positions will likely be up for grabs in 2015, as much as they were entering this off-season.
Heading into 2014, Eric Young is arbitration eligible, and newly acquired Chris Young was only signed to a one year deal. So, nothing is certain. On a supportive note, Dustin Lawley and Eric Young Jr. share a bit in common. Young also attended community college, and didn’t make his MLB debut until age twenty-four.
Juan Lagares seems to have won the center field job based on his defense, with hope his offensive production improves. At current, Juan is third in the Dominican Winter League with a .345 batting average. In 27 games, Lagares has 38 hits in 110 at-bats, with 5 doubles, a home run, and 6 walks for a .378 OBP.
Of Dustin Lawley’s other projected competitors, Andrew Brown will continue to get a look. He is another who didn’t make his MLB debut until age 26. Brown is now 29 years old, and has played in parts of three MLB seasons. In seven minor league seasons and 2,218 at-bats, he was a career .522 slugger.
With his injuries finally behind him, Matt den Dekker, 26, is back on the Mets radar again. He has four seasons of minor league experience, and enjoyed his best season in 2012 during a split campaign between Binghamton and Buffalo. The only time Matt ever slugged above .500 came in 2012, during 58 games with Binghamton. I refuse to hold his limited 2013 MLB debut and 58 at-bats against him, and would agree he deserves a fresh new look. I do not however, regard him as highly as Lawley. Despite my opinion, he can pose an outside threat to Juan Lagares in center field. Matt den Dekker still has many fans in his corner.
Unfortunately, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Cory Vaughn have slipped even further behind the pack. Darrell Ceciliani poses no imminent threat to anyone’s playing time, while Jordany Valdespin clings to the 40-man roster by a thread.
On the outside looking in, Cesar Puello would be the prospect, besides Lawley, with the highest upside, but after serving a 50 game suspension stemming from Biogenesis, he needs to reestablish himself. At the moment, Puello is batting .181 in 72 at-bats playing in the Dominican Winter Leagues.
Finally, Lucas Duda is out of the way, destined for first base.
All this would suggest the Mets outfield situation is sufficiently discombobulated in Dustin Lawley‘s favor. Brown, den Dekker, Nieuwenhuis, and even Young could all conceivably be weeded out over the next 18 months, opening a wide window of opportunity.
By that time, the Mets should have Matt Harvey back on the mound, with Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero potentially anchored to the starting rotation as well. In fact, in under two season’s time, Dustin Lawley could join a team that looks considerably different than today’s edition.
In Dustin’s case, timing can indeed be everything.