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April 7, 2005

by Fabian

Well, that sucked (SG)

Eric Duncan, 20, 3B

The Yankees drafted Eric Duncan in ’03 to moderate fanfare. At the time I thought he was a good pick, but based on pre-draft scouting reports and his amateur record, I felt Duncan did not have superstar potential. While Duncan was able to earn enough accolades during his GCL stint after signing to get some time with the NYPL SI Yankees, I still was not overly impressed. Despite scouting reports with mentions of Chipper Jones or Nick Johnson with more opposite field power, I was not sold. My thought process was that Duncan was a pretty poor defender at the hot corner and his power was lacking; in ’04, Duncan made me a believer.

Duncan’s MWL stint started off solidly at the plate and only got better until about the 1st of June. At that point he was hitting for average, taking walks, showing power and not striking out excessively. However, during that month, Duncan experienced the worst slump of his professional career and the result was that while his power and walking were able to maintain some level of consistency, his AVG had taken a huge hit and was spiraling downwards. Once the dust cleared the Yankees promoted the 3B to the FSL. At the time I was not the biggest fan of the move because I felt the Yankees should have waited for him to get hot before promoting him. In addition, I also felt that such a promotion meant a trade was imminent and as I had been growing attached to Duncan I did not approve of this. The 3B was able to overcome a seemingly hasty FSL promotion by maintaining his performance from the MWL and is now amongst the game’s better prospects.

Duncan’s greatness as a prospect cannot be seen by looking at his overall offensive production, but rather by breaking down his peripherals, specifically his isolated Power and Patience. This is best demonstrated in the Hardball Times write up on Duncan, where he ranked 22nd overall, as I corresponded with Aaron for the write-up:

[Duncan's] Isolated Discipline (.112) and Isolated Power (.208) would have ranked third and fourth in the Florida State League, respectively. His combined IsoD and IsoP of .320 would have ranked second in the league behind only Brandon Sing, a 23-year-old Cubs prospect in his sixth minor-league season. Similarly, Duncan's .310 combined IsoD and IsoP in the Midwest League would have ranked fourth. Perhaps most impressively, Duncan's extra-base hit percentages (59.0% in the FSL, 49.3% in the MWL) would have ranked first and second, respectively. In plain English, Duncan was excellent compared to his peers last season and could put up some scary raw numbers if given a chance to shine in a better offensive environment. If Duncan can up the batting average, he could be in for a big year at Double-A Trenton.

Overall, I am supremely confident in Duncan’s ability to be at least an average offensive contributor due to his combination of power and patience. The primary risk with his offense is that the strikeouts are somewhat disconcerting, though it is nice that he cut back on them following a promotion, and as scary as it may seem, strikeouts are sometimes a portent of even greater power to come according to research done by Baseball Prospectus. The secondary risk is that if Duncan is truly only a .260 or so hitter, his ceiling is obviously more limited than if his true BA ability were much higher. At this point I would say Duncan should be expected to be about a .280 hitter in the bigs, though I reserve the right to adjust this estimation.

The aspect of Duncan’s game that has not been addressed at this point is his defense. When the Yankees initially drafted him, Duncan was seen as a horrid defensive 3B destined for 1B due to poor throwing mechanics and range. In a little over a year and a half in the Yankee minor league system, Duncan has done a lot of work on his general athleticism and is now seen as an acceptable defensive 3B, though the throwing mechanics still need work. If he remains a Yankee, his future is likely still across the diamond due to the presence of Alex Rodriguez. Having seen the awesome power he displayed all of ’04 I no longer worry that he lacks the bat to uphold the offensive responsibilities of a 1B. ’05 will be a key year for Duncan; since Tino is only signed for 1 year, a huge season could mean Duncan has a shot at seeing the Bronx by ’06. Otherwise, he will continue to look to replace Giambi down the line or be traded for something shiny when a perceived need arises in the Yankee quest for the World Series.

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