Prospect Profile: Eric Duncan

Parsing A-Rod's compliments
Hoping for a major rebound from Cano

e-dunc
Eric Duncan | 1B/3B

Background
Born just outside of Morristown in Florham Park, NJ, Duncan grew up a Yankee fan and idolized Paul O’Neill. He spent most of his childhood in California, moving back to New Jersey when he was in the eighth grade. Duncan attended Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange and set school records for batting avg (.536), hits (52), homers (12) and RBI (60) as a senior. He was named the Gatorade New Jersey High School Player of the Year and earned a spot on the Baseball America All-American First Team.

Committed to Louisiana State strictly for negotiation leverage purposes, Baseball America rated Duncan the best prospect in the state and 23rd best prospect overall for the 2003 draft. The Yankees selected him with their first round pick, number 27 overall, and he signed days after the draft for  a $1,250,000 bonus. Duncan is the best high school hitter to come out of New Jersey in the last decade, if not longer.

Pro Career
Assigned to the Rookie level Gulf Coast League after signing, Duncan hit .278-.343-.400 with twelves doubles and two homers in 180 at-bats before being bumped up to Short Season Staten Island for a late season cameo. In fourteen games (59 AB) with the Baby Bombers he hit .373-.393-.695 with five doubles, four triples and two homers. Baseball America rated him the top prospect in the GCL after the season, ahead of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Matt Capps.

Duncan started his first full professional season with Low-A Battle Creek, where he was named to the All-Star Team after hitting .260-.347-.479. The Yanks moved him up to High-A Tampa in the second half where he held his own by hitting .254-.365-.458. All told, Duncan’s line on the year was .258-.354-.471 with 16 homers and an 43 freaking doubles. He struck out 131 times in 130 games, but his K/BB ratio went from 2.21 with Battle Creek to 1.52 after the promotion. Duncan was named the third best prospect in the Midwest League and the tenth best prospect in the Florida State League after the season, and he was clearly the top prospect in the Yanks’ system.

The Yanks continued to move Duncan up the ladder aggressively by sending him to Double-A Trenton to start 2005. He struggled as one of the youngest hitters in the league, posting then career lows across the board with a .235-.325-.408 batting line, although he did set a career mark by clubbing 19 homers. Duncan was hit in the head by a pitch on August 14th and didn’t play the rest of the season. Despite the down year, Baseball America still rated him as one of the twenty best prospects in the Eastern League.

Even with his struggles and injury at Double-A the year prior, the team bumped Duncan up to Triple-A Columbus at the outset of 2006. He predictably struggled, hitting just .209-.279-.255 with no homers in 31 games before going down with a back injury. He missed just about two months with the injury, and once healthy the team was kind enough to send him back to Trenton. He rebounded well in his second go around with the Thunder, hitting .248-.355-.485 with 10 homers and 15 doubles in 57 games to close out the season. The Yanks sent him to the Arizona Fall League after the season to make up for lost time, and Duncan regained some prospect status by hitting .362-.423-.734 and winning the league MVP.

Duncan had a decent showing in Spring Training, highlighted by a two-run pinch-hit homer off Salomon Torres. He started 2007 at the Triple-A level for the second consecutive year and performed better than his 2006 showing, although that’s not saying much. He hit .241-.323-.389 with 11 homers and 26 doubles in 113 games, continuing to battle nagging back issues. The Yankees declined to add Duncan to the 40-man roster after the season and he was left exposed in the Rule 5 Draft, though he ultimately went unselected and remaining with the organization.

Once again starting the year in Triple-A, Duncan had the worst season of his career in 2008 and was relegated to part-time duty for stretches of the season. He hit .233-.295-.366, career lows across the board. The highlight of his season came in Game One of the International League Championship Series, when he knocked home the winning run with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th. Duncan went 3 for 19 (.158) with that one run batted in and twelve strike outs during the four game series, striking out exactly three times in all four games. Again Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, Duncan again went undrafted after the Yanks left him off the 40-man roster.

Scouting Report
Duncan’s calling card has always been his light tower power from the left side. His swing is picture perfect and his wrists are quick enough to turn on quality fastballs on the inner half. He can absolutely annihilate mistake pitches. Breaking balls have long been his bane however, as Duncan hasn’t learned to recognize them out of the pitcher’s hand or developed the ability stay back and trust his hands. His knowledge of the strike zone is generally good, and he’s shown a knack for coming up with big hits.

Defensively, Duncan had to slide over to first base from the hot corner as his career progressed, a move that wasn’t unexpected. His hands are decent and he’s okay around the bag, but his range is limited and his throws are inconsistent. Duncan’s not a total butcher, but he’ll never save a game with his glove. He’s a below average runner, and the nagging back injuries are also a concern. To his credit, Duncan has outstanding makeup and has shown tremendous work ethic and dedication despite all of his struggles.

You can see a clip of Duncan in the AzFL here, as well as a clip of him falling victim to David Price here.

2009 Outlook
Duncan will make another return trip to Triple-A this year. As always, a strong showing there could earn him some big league action if everything goes his way.

My Take
The Yankees rushed Duncan up the ladder because they had very few prospects when he was drafted and they wanted to boost his trade value, and it’s certainly crippled his development. If he was ever going to have that long awaited breakout, this would be the year to do it; he’ll become a six year minor league free agent after the season unless he’s added to the 40-man roster. Because he’s left handed, can hit the ball a long way on occasion, and play two positions passably, it’s still possible for Duncan to carve out a nice career as a bench player/pinch hit specialist with a NL club. He’s also going to give the outfield a try this year, which would give him an even better chance to land a bench job. He’s over a full year younger than Brett Gardner, so we’re not talking about a prospect past his expiration date just yet. I figured this might be one of the last opportunities I get to profile E-Dunc, so here you go.

Photo Credit: Flickr user a fan of the game

Parsing A-Rod's compliments
Hoping for a major rebound from Cano
  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    I think the Yankees should have invited him to Spring Training. Seems like a decent enough guy. I hope he does well this season and gains some respect back.

    • Bo

      he should get an invite because hes a nice guy? the kid cant play at a AAA level and u want him to go to camp in place of someone who can??

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
      • andrew

        I’m a nice guy too, where’s my invite?!?!

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        No I don’t think that they should have invited him because he is a nice guy ( I said decent, anyway) but they should have invited him because he plays 3 positions, the Yankees have 3 infielders at the WBC, he is a 2-year AAA player and he is still regarded as a prospect. He’s no Jason Linden or Justin Leone, but I still think an invite wouldn’t have been a crazy idea.

        • Chris

          I agree. It’s not like they’re going to turn someone else away because he was invited.

  • Reggie C.

    Best write-up of the bunch so far. The fact that Duncan hasn’t pointed the finger at the brass for being rushed is sort of interestng… though who could blame him if he did. We forget that Duncan was a very good prospect coming out of HS, and that his selection made sense for any organization picking from that spot.

    I do wonder however if he’d be as highly rated today coming out of HS, only b/c his athleticism isn’t impressive.

  • A.D.

    Any additional word about the comments he was playing some left field?

    Otherwise we can only hope it “comes together” this year

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      Blast, I forgot to mention that. Yeah, he’s going to give the outfield a shot this year.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Cashman is going to have Duncan try to play the outfield? Clearly, that’s taking a shot at Johnny Damon.

        Bastard.

  • pat

    Never give up eric! You could be our starting 1b as early as 2017!!@

  • steve (different one)

    so…reading this, it was his 31 games in AAA at the start of 2006 that caused his prospect status to dim?

    not the back injuries?

    because reading through this, that’s really the only time it sounds like he was rushed.

    sounds like he earned the rest of those promotions, but they should have had him repeat AA in 2006.

    i know it’s easier to blame the organization than to admit that a Yankee prospect just might not be that good, and he probably WAS rushed to some extent, but i think the bigger story is probably his back.

    looking at his numbers, he raked at every level before he was promoted.

    • andrew

      I think it was a combination of the injuries and that jump from AA to AAA. The combination of the huge adjustment while battling injuries was understandably too much to handle. It’s too bad he didn’t work out, I’m assuming somebody else will give him a shot next year, because unless he excels in the outfield, the corner IF spots in AAA seem to be locked up

      • steve (different one)

        but they sent him back down after 31 games. that is what TSJC and i are saying.

        are you saying that those 31 games were SOOOO damagine to his psyche that he proceeded to suck for the next 3 years because of it??

        b/c there was an argument to send him back to AAA in 2007 based on his performance in AA in 2006 and the AFL.

        so really, it kindof boils down to those 31 games. just seems like a stretch to me…

        • steve (different one)

          for the record, i really like Duncan, and i would LOVE to see him work his way to the bigs as a bench bat/DH/4th OFer/backup 1Bman.

          maybe become something like Brad Wilkerson before he fell off the cliff?

          • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

            Remember when that dude was the next big thing? Seems like forever ago.

            Totally off topic: is it just me or does Prime Minister Gordon Brown have a GIGANTIC head?

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    “The Yankees rushed Duncan up the ladder because they had very few prospects when he was drafted and they wanted to boost his trade value, and it’s certainly crippled his development.”

    Something else I’ve always wondered: How much does the “rushed” factor affect a player long term?

    As in, Duncan probably shouldn’t have been promoted to AAA for 2006, he should have repeated AA, but did that irrevocably scar him for life? He’s certainly made up for any lost development time by spending five full years in the minors; if he wasn’t ready for AAA that soon, he certainly should be ready for it by now, no?

    Cases like this make me say that the “he was rushed” concept may not hold much water. Duncan may have been rushed, but it seems a more likely case that he just wasn’t that good and the rush may have merely exposed that he was overmatched sooner. I know there’s a confidence issue that is gigantic (since baseball is a game full of failure, a cruel bitch that leaves you in constant fear that the end is around the corner and you’ll never get another hit), but ultimately, any confidence Duncan lost by struggling at a level too advanced for him too soon has to be balanced by the confidence he should have been gaining by improving in the three years he spent at AAA mashing the league (confidence that never came, because he never improved and never mashed).

    • steve (different one)

      the “irony” to all of this?

      the original Randy Johnson trade had Duncan as the centerpiece instead of Navarro.

      that was the version of the trade where it was a 3 way between the Dodgers/LA/NY. the Dodgers pulled out at the last minute, so the Yankees had to rework the deal.

      what a f’ing debacle that offseason was.

    • A.D.

      And that the Yankees were sticking with him & considering him a top prospect… waiting for him to succeed to give him a chance at the MLB level.

      During Duncan’s Yankee career it’s not until this offseason that his potential MLB position has been blocked with the Tex signing & several guys to DH. In the past they could have always made room if he mashed.

    • andrew

      I guess the most logical response to that would be something like in school where you start with the most basic level of the class and excel in it. But then you bump yourself up to a very, very difficult class without mastering the intermediate courses in the subject. Without those intermediate concepts, you may never be able to understand the highest level classes.

      However, at the same time, I do agree that after 3 years in AAA, he’d would’ve adjusted by now if he ever had that potential to begin with.

      There’s really no way of telling how big the jump from AA to AAA hurt him, or how much injuries contributed, or how much was due to a major loss of confidence. All we can do is speculate.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Yeah, it’s like saying that he was in the 3rd grade and did so well on his CAT tests, he skipped the 4th grade and went right to 5th grade. And then he struggled, which is understandable; so he repeated the 5th grade. Now, he’s back to his normal grade level, AND he already knows the material, so he should do better… but he doesn’t, and now he repeats 5th grade again; now he’s behind a grade, and still struggling.

        Maybe he just wasn’t that great in the first place.

        • Bo

          Theres no such thing as being rushed when you have actual talent.

          anyone accusing the Reds of rushing Bruce? d backs upton? TB upton?

          He doesn’t have the talent to play in the big leagues. Thats really it.

          • whozat

            There’s a lot of space between “having actual talent” and “being one of the Upton brothers.”

            For some reason, you seem to be taking it personally that we’re talking about Eric Duncan. What are you so pissed for?

            • A.D.

              What are you so pissed for?

              vintage Bo, never seen a real positive comment from him

        • andrew

          Yea, your analogy probably explains it a little better, he just may not have the tools to be a great AAA guy. And that’s okay. He won’t be the first guy to make the jump to AAA and then struggle and never take the next step. Not every prospect can shoot right up the ladder. However, the question about the Yankees mishandling him does hold some weight here, but it can’t be used as sole reason for his problems, other factors were involved too.

          • Troy

            Hi,
            Regarding Duncan I would speculate that either i) the back issues hurt him and has not let him realise his full potential ii) he does not have the scills to adapt to higher levels of competition or iii) rushing him has so far had a negative impact, you should not forget that baseball also is a very tough mental game.

            The link below is to an article about Rick Ankiel, however a pitcher similar speculation could be valid for Duncan.

            http://partners.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/20010211mag-ankiel.html

  • Chaz

    I always rooted for Duncan. My high school coach worked with him a lot and Eric gave him a glove which in turn was given to me to use when I was transplanted to centerfield. I wish him the bes of luck and hope that that hard work pays off.

  • Andy

    In your eval of NJ prospects, you forgot about big Jack Cust, another first round, big time NJ talent, and, I might add, a late bloomer…

    • steve (different one)

      and Jeffrey Hammonds

  • Bo

    is this a fringe/failed prospect series now?

    whos next? andy cannizarro? sean henn? tyler clippard? maybe go old school and do hensley bam bam muelens.

  • Ted

    u should probably focus on guys who are actual prospects. Duncan is another in a long line of Yankee busts

    • steve (different one)

      this was an incredibly productive comment.

    • whozat

      We talk about those guys all the time. And, there’s still a month to go til the season starts.

      Why do you care what Mike chooses to spend his time writing about? Were you somehow incapable of avoiding reading this article? Did it “waste your time”? If so, why are you “wasting” MORE of your time complaining?

      • steve (different one)

        even after the season starts, it’s not as if anything we discuss on RAB actually has any real life implications…

        don’t waste the time that i have dedicated to my favorite leisure activity, over-analyzing every angle of a sports team!!

        • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

          even after the season starts, it’s not as if anything we discuss on RAB actually has any real life implications…

          Except getting Nick Swisher.

  • Pete

    Is that a shot at jeter?

    • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

      What isn’t?

  • The Scout

    Why is this labeled “Prospect Profile”?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Because RAB seeks to bring order and sanity to the universe. Duncan is a minor league player under contract to a big-league organization. Hence, he’s a prospect.

      You may have preferred “Irresponsible Rumormongering” or “STEROIDS!” or “Death by Bullpen”, but those don’t make any logical sense.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

        Perhaps “Horrendously Retarded.”

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Heh, when I see horrendously retarded comments, instead of linking them to LoHud, I’m going to start linking them to the Horrendously Retarded post archive.

      • The Scout

        You have an exceptionally generous definition of prospect!

  • http://everythingbaseball.wordpress.com Aaron

    First, Mike you did a great job once again on these profiles. And despite most of the other comments, I won’t vilify you for choosing someone who really no longer qualifies as a prospect.

    It does sound kind of interesting when his entire professional career is laid out the way you did so to realize that he started out moving quickly through the system because he was earning his promotions each step of the way. However, I think that it was simultaneously a situation where he was a first round pick and the organization wanted/expected him to prove his value as quickly as possible.

    In 2005 he his .235 with 19 homers in a shortened season at AA. That line doesn’t exactly scream “promote me” in my opinion. But, he was assigned to AAA to start the next season and well, that’s where things seemingly started to go wrong. Sure, he was pegged as someone who could hit for power and could hit lefties well but the numbers just simply don’t support that. Ultimately he should have had a second year in AA to continue developing.

    But hey, I think at this point we all wish Duncan some luck and hope that in one way or another be brings the Yankees something worthwhile – be it either via trade or him having a solid year and breaking through to the Big Show.

  • Jake H

    Mike A. How many prospect profiles will you be doing? Also the guy is a prospect, he’s 24!

  • teix is the man

    chase utley, ryan howard… all guys who broke into the majors in their late 20’s. do’nt write duncan off yet

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Chase Utley’s career minor league line is .282/.357/.465.
      Ryan Howard’s career minor league line is .299/.387/.550.

      Eric Duncan’s carer minor league line is .247/.330/.416.

      I hate to be a wet blanket, but… come on, dude.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

        Also, not only did they both hit well in the minors, but were both blocked. Polanco and Thome.

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          Luckily he’s not blocked at either 1st or 3rd.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Maybe he could leadoff and play shortstop. I’d love to see that.

            Sincerely,
            Alex Rodriguez

  • Tripp

    Are you doing Lance Pendelton or Jason Stephens next?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Are you doing the same joke that’s already been done in this thread in one form or another like 10 times already?

      • Tripp

        Negative, Bossman. Lance Pendelton had a great year last year and apparently has some pretty filthy stuff.

        Thanks for your concern though tommiesmithjohncarlos.

  • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

    Nice profile, Saint Jude.

  • steve

    Here’s to hoping Eric has a breakout year and earns a shot somewhere. Eric sought out my son at spring training last year recognizing his FP Falcons shirt and flipping up a ball. He also plays along with the annual trick or treat trek, and signed and mailed back a card addressed to my kids. He works hard and is real. See you in the show; I’ll take the kids to your first game.

  • Rich

    Start him off at AA to try to boost his confidence.

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