Eric Duncan, 1B, 22
Previously Ranked: 2nd prior to 2006, 1st prior to 2005, 3rd prior to 2004
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 7th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels 22nd (C)
Physical Ability: Eric Duncan is a 1B listed at 6’3’’ and 195 pounds (Personally, I think he’s about an inch or two shorter and 10 pounds heavier). 2006 was the first year in which Duncan was a full-time 1B as he had previously been across the diamond, and it showed. His arm plays a bit above average for the position, as would be expected, but he needs to smooth out his actions around the bag. Duncan’s defensive actions could also improve in terms of conviction, but that will likely come with time. Offensively, Duncan has a short and powerful stroke. He typically keeps the ball in the air, which is going to keep his batting average below it’s expected levels due to increased pop ups when he’s going wrong, as well as fly balls turning into hits less than ground balls. However, when he’s right and hits the ball on the screws, Duncan has very impressive power. He still has a chance to be a 30-homer man in the majors.
What Happened in ’06: 2005 was a trying year for Duncan. He struggled for most of his stint at AA Trenton, as he was overmatched by more advanced pitchers, and was not able to contribute to the Trenton playoff push due to being hit in the head by a pitch. He was then sent to the Arizona Fall League where he raked. For some this was reason enough to believe that he was fixed, for others it was not, I was a non-believer. However, when Duncan raked again in Spring Training 2006 and the news came out that the Yankees had tinkered with his spring during the 2005 regular season, I became cautiously optimistic. Duncan then made that optimism look silly as he struggled to keep his average above .200 in AAA. However, there were mitigating factors at work. For one, last year’s International League was a tough hitting environment. Secondly, Duncan was hit unlucky in both the “look at his peripherals” and “watch the games” ways. And finally, and most importantly, Duncan was struggling with some back issues. The Yankees finally placed him on the disabled list and once he was healthy they demoted him to AA Trenton. Upon his return to Trenton, Duncan began to rake, until…he succumbed to further back troubles. Eric would return yet again, but not regain his full effectiveness and during his second stint in the Arizona Fall League he struggled offensively.
What Lies Ahead: In 2007, Eric Duncan will essentially be playing for his career. The prospect light has steadily dimmed for him, in the eyes of most, and if he does not turn in an impressive year, he may be relegated to “potential bench player” status. For my part, I think it all rests on his health. Unlike most left-handed hitters, Duncan has no troubles with left-handers and usually hits them better than he does righties. In addition, the strikeouts are no longer a problem as he has found the balance between patience and discipline while learning to better pick up breaking balls. Finally, all of Duncan’s offensive troubles in 2006 can be directly attributed to either back issues or fluky ball in play trends. All this is to say that I’m confident Duncan will hit…if his body allows him to. Given his past handling, I would expect the Yankees to place him in AAA. Whether he starts there or AA, he can make himself an option at the major league level with a good year.
Grade: Eric Duncan’s pro career has been disappointing to this point. However, I feel that given health, positive things lie ahead. With Giambi nearing the conclusion of his contract, Doug M. only signed for 1 year and no other legitimate 1B candidates ahead of him, the time for Duncan to make his move is now. C+
Marcos Vechionacci #11