Lucas Duda was a big, strong, slugging first baseman/outfielder in three years at USC from 2005-2007, helping to bridge the gap between Mike Gillespie and Chad Kreuter with the Trojans.
He kept the power up in parts of four minor-league seasons in the New York Mets organization after being drafted in the seventh round in 2007. But, in two stints up at the big-league level last September and this summer, Duda has struggled to put up the power numbers so far. He hasn't hit a dinger yet in 30 games this season and, with all of his major-league at-bats to date, would only be on pace to hit 13 or 14 homers in a full season.
Is the power coming?
Maybe so. After getting a pep talk from former USC (and New York Mets) pitcher Tom Seaver, Duda had his best game yet as a pro two weekends ago in Texas, tying a New York franchise record with three doubles on a 4-for-5, four-RBI day. He's been picking up regular at-bats of late in the absence of the injured David Wright, but Wright's scheduled to come off the disabled list later this week, so Duda's essentially fighting for his temporary major-league life this week in a West Coast road trip against the Dodgers and Giants.
In a weekly USC Report feature, we take a look at Duda's collegiate career, his pro resume thus far and what's to come from the 25-year-old left-handed hitter:
Duda, listed at 6-5, 240-pounds in college, arrived at USC in the fall of 2004 a touted prospect from nearby Riverside, where he starred at Arlington High and won CIF-SS Division I Player of the Year honors as a senior. He missed almost half of his freshman season with the Trojans because of a wrist injury, but rebounded to approach a .300 average as a sophomore and then lead the team in homers as a junior in 2007.
That year, Duda hit .280 with seven homers and 34 RBI, coming in second in the team in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He started 51 games at left field, a departure from his previous years spent at first base. The team's season was deemed a disappointment, as the Trojans failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in Kreuter's first season at the helm, but Duda was the team's top draft pick that June.
Duda signed right away and took an immediate liking to the minor leagues, hitting .299 with a .398 on-base percentage in 234 at-bats that year with the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets' Short Season A affiliate. He then spent all of 2008 in High-A Port St. Lucie, where he hit .263 with a .358 on-base percentage and 11 home runs, and all of 2009 in Double-A Binghamton, where he hit .281 with a .380 on-base percentage and nine home runs.
The power emerged for him in 2010, when he shuffled between Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo from May-August and combined to hit 23 home runs in just 487 at-bats, which earned him that September call-up to New York.
Starting most of the remaining games on the Mets' schedule, Duda struggled some, hitting just .202 with a .261 on-base percentage, by far his worst marks as a pro. But, after another poor performance in the majors at the start of the season, he went back to tearing the cover off the ball in Buffalo this spring and earned another call-up to New York.
Until that four-hit game in Texas late last month, Duda was hitting a miserable .173 on the year with a horrific .462 OPS. Now his numbers are starting to creep back up into respectable territory, as he's gone 10-for-27 (.370) in his last seven games to raise his average to .241.
He stands to likely go back down to Triple-A when Wright's brought back later this week, but Duda's made a positive impression on manager Terry Collins and the streaking Mets in recent weeks. It doesn't look he'll be sequestered in upstate New York for any sort of extended period of time, especially if he continues his hot streak this week in L.A. and San Francisco.