Duda making good impression in camp

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When the New York Mets dispatched 11 players to minor league camp Friday morning, one-time top prospect Fernando Martinez found himself on the cut list.

That was no great surprise. After all, Martinez has averaged 77 games a regular season over five years because of assorted injuries and needs to demonstrate he can stay healthy while getting a full complement of Triple-A at-bats.

Listening to scouts assigned to the Mets, it also came as little surprise the organization decided to keep outfield prospect Lucas Duda in major league camp -- where he likely will stay until close to when the Mets break camp.

The 25-year-old Duda, a seventh-round pick in 2007 out of the University of Southern California, has indisputably been the most talked about young player in Mets camp.

Because of the favorable impression he has made, Duda was exposed to right field in a Grapefruit League game for the second time this week Friday as the Mets look to get him acclimated to the position in case Carlos Beltran's knee woes result in a long-term absence.

"Hopefully Carlos is healthy," Duda said. "He's a great player and even better guy. So you don't want to see anybody go down like that. Fernando is a great player, too. Wherever they put me is where I'll go. I'm not really thinking about anything like that. I'll just keep on playing and whatever happens, happens."

Duda went 0-for-2 in Friday's rout of the Florida Marlins after pinch-hitting for Jason Bay in the fifth inning. His Grapefruit League average slipped to a still solid .303. A day earlier, Duda delivered his second homer of the spring, a three-run shot in the ninth inning against Washington right-hander Tyler Clippard.

Scouts admit they did not uniformly foresee Duda's ascendance to becoming a top prospect. When Duda was in the Class A Florida State League in 2008, he would put on awesome power displays during batting practice. But because he had a longer swing and a propensity to flick the ball the other way, he had difficulty translating that power into games, although he did manage to hit 11 homers in 483 at-bats with St. Lucie that year.

One scout who has tracked Duda since then sees a similar transformation occurring to the one that turned slugger Adrian Gonzalez from a player who hit only 69 homers in 653 minor league games to the player who averaged 34 long balls per season during the past four years with the San Diego Padres. Duda, like Gonzalez, learned to shorten his swing and turn on the inside fastballs -- the ones he used to flick the other way because he could not catch up to them.

"It just kind of happens," Duda said. "I've always been able to go the other way. As for pulling it, I think that comes with sitting on pitches and picking and choosing your counts to do that."

That is not to suggest Duda is on the imminent verge of becoming a Gonzalez-like power hitter. After all, Duda did open his major league career after a September call-up in a 1-for-34 rut before rallying to finish with a .202 average.

Still, Duda has shown he is now a viable option to succeed Beltran as the right fielder at Citi Field in 2012. He may be an option sooner if Beltran's balky knees continue to be an issue, although Duda needs to get acclimated to the position first.

A natural first baseman, Duda only began getting serious outfield exposure in the minors in left field the past two seasons because of Ike Davis' presence on the same '09 Double-A Binghamton team.

Left field is a work in progress. Right field is an entirely new position, where Duda had played only nine minor league games until three Grapefruit League games this week.

"I think I'm a little more comfortable out there," Duda said about right field after getting a second exhibition game under his belt at the position Friday. "I'll just keep plugging away. I took like 50 or 60 fly balls in right field after batting practice. I'll continue to do that and see what happens."