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Lucas Duda is good. Did anyone see it coming?

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Lucas Duda
Lucas Duda
Elsa/Getty Images

New York Mets first baseman Lucas Duda is hitting .304/.397/.457 through 26 games, his wRC+ of 148 making him one of the most dangerous hitters in the league this year. What kind of prospect was he? Did anyone see this coming?

Duda was a big-time power hitting prospect in high school but he took the education route and played college ball at the University of Southern California. He was an adequate hitter in college but never quite lived up to the expectations of scouts, hitting .275/.374/.410 over three seasons 2005-2007; remember, offense was at an all-time high back then in college ball. Still, scouts were intrigued with his strength and left-handed bat even if the production wasn't quite there, leading to a spot in the seventh round of the '07 draft.

The Mets sent him to Brooklyn in the New York-Penn League and he actually put up better numbers there than he did in college, hitting .299/.398/.462 in 67 games. Despite the better numbers scouting reports were still somewhat muted, leading to this comment in the 2008 Baseball Prospect Book:

The Mets drafted Duda out of USC in the seventh round last year. He was very disappointing as a college hitter, not tapping into his raw power much with the metal bat. The Mets hoped they could make some changes to his swing and unleash his potential. He hit just four homers in the New York-Penn League, but he did knock 20 doubles, and he does a good job controlling the strike zone. Duda has some power upside, but we’ll have to see what he does against better competition. Grade C.

Duda moved up to St. Lucie in the High-A Florida State League in 2008, hitting .263/.358/.398. That doesn't sound so hot but it was slightly above average production for the FSL. Scouting reports focused on his good batting eye and physical strength but noted a line drive-oriented swing that still didn't tap his power. The report entering '09:

Although physically strong, he never showed the expected power in college, and his home run production as a pro hasn’t been spectacular. He hits some doubles and controls the strike zone reasonably well, and some scouts still think he can tap into his strength with a few more mechanical adjustments to his swing. His OPS was a bit above average at +7 percent for St. Lucie, but that’s inadequate for a corner guy. Duda should move to Double-A in ’09, and his strike zone judgment gives him at least some chance to improve. Grade C.

2009 brought a .281/.380/.428 mark with Double-A Binghamton, drawing 61 walks but hitting just nine homers. At this point he was behind the erratic Ike Davis on the first base depth chart, but Duda was still worth watching. There was also something in his profile that made me think he could improve, although I couldn't quite describe it. The grade was conservative but there was a hint in the comment:

Duda is an interesting guy. He has a good feel for the strike zone and draws plenty of walks. He’s big and looks like he should hit for power, but he doesn’t loft the ball like scouts think he should, and his home run production is disappointing. He’s a good defensive first baseman and not horrible in the outfield, though his range is limited. Although his numbers haven’t been great to this point, Duda does have some potential, and seems a good candidate for an age 26/27 performance spike in 2012 or 2013. Mark your calendar. Grade C.

He surged in '10, hitting .286/.411/.503 in 45 games in Double-A, then .314/.389/.610 in 70 games for Triple-A Buffalo. He got into 29 major league games with the Mets, hitting .202/.261/.417 but with four homers in 84 at-bats. He needed to adapt to the majors but it was evident that he had made adjustments and tapped into that power:

. . .Duda had a good year, driving the ball more effectively for power and performing quite well in both Double-A and Triple-A, posting a +35 percent OPS in the International League. He had a sharp platoon split for Buffalo (1.084 OPS against right-handers, .823 against lefties) and in the majors his best deployment would likely be as a platoon bat. He showed the need for better plate discipline in his major league trial, but that should improve with time. . . at age 25 his remaining upside may be limited, but I still think he could end up having a very good major league season or two in the coming years. He just needs a place to play. Grade C+ but a sleeper for success in the coming years.

As you know, Duda was used in the platoon role for the Mets in 2011, 2012, and 2013, showing substantial power but considerable fluctuation in his batting averages and OBP. He became a full-time player in 2014 and hit 30 homers with a .253/.349/.481 line, wRC+136. That was right on schedule as an age 27/28 performance surge and he's maintained it in the early going this season.

So did anyone see this coming?

Yes. Scouts saw that it was possible, liking him back in high school and still seeing him as an interesting draft prospect even when he didn't hit as well as expected in college. It was there in the numbers, too: he always controlled the strike zone well and hit plenty of doubles before the home run power blossomed.

Of course, not every player with a similar profile makes it work, but both subjectively and objectively, there were good markers in Duda's data set. This is not out of the blue.