19 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Eric Duncan

See? I told you that you'd be hearing more about Eric Duncan!

Eric Anthony Duncan

Position: 3B
Born: December 7, 1984
Height: 6-1 Weight: 205
Bats: Left Throws: Right
High School: Seton Hall Prep High School (West Orange,NJ)
Drafted: New York Yankees, 1st round (27th overall) of 2003 June draft

Duncan, as I mentioned last week, is the Yankees' #2 prospect, according to Baseball America. The Yanks took him with their first pick in the 2003 draft, right out of Seton Hall Prep, and according to The Baseball Cube, by making it to AA ball he's already advanced farther than anyone else ever drafted from that school. Yep, all six of 'em.

Duncan was immediately sent to the Yankees Gulf Coast (Rookie) League affiliate and hit OK, but nothing special (.278/.348/.400, with only 2 homers in 47 games but 18 walks). They promoted him to Staten Island of the short-season New York-Penn League (Low-A) and he tore the cover off the ball, hitting .373/.413/.695 in his 14 games there. Hard to blame him for wanting to get away from Staten Island as soon as possible. That got him sent to Low-A Battle Creek to start the 2004 season and a solid performance there got him sent to High-A Tampa.

Take a look at his combined line in A-Ball from 2004:

129 461 75 119 43 4 16 83 7 3 69 131 .258 .360 .473

OK, so a .258 batting average doesn’t look all that exciting, and striking out once a game even less so, but he also walked more than once every other game and he piled up 63 hits for extra bases, including 43 doubles. All of this at the tender age of 19! That made him the Yankees’ #1 prospect in Baseball America’s 2004 list, so why is he only #2 this year?

Bad Luck, essentially.

Baseball America indicates that he got off to a slow start at AA Trenton and then, to make matters worse, got hit in the head with a pitch. That generally screwed him up for the rest of the year, but he did hit .362/.423/.734 with 8 homers and 27 RBI in only 23 games to win the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. (NOTE: Another Yankees prospect, recently acquired 2B Kevin Howard, won the AFL batting title with a .409(!) average in 25 games. Howard looks like a fringe prospect at best, and had never hit over .296 in a season of his minor league career, so AFL numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe a whole shaker full of it.)

What’s he got going for him?

Duncan’s still very young, having just turned 21 a month ago. He hits left-handed, always a good fit for Yankee Stadium, and has power that is already above average and developing. His homer totals have gone from 4 to 16 to 19 in his three years of pro ball, and those 19 bombs in 2005 came despite a .235 batting average. He’s also shown some patience, walking at a reasonable rate, which is impressive considering his youth. “He’s coachable and willing to make adjustments,” according to John Manuel of BA.

What’s he got going against him?

His batting stroke generates power, but isn’t particularly short, so he strikes out a lot. Even while piling up those pretty numbers in the Arizona Fall League, he also struck out 29 times in 23 games. Like most young players, he has some trouble with good breaking stuff, part of the reason his numbers suffered at AA Trenton last season.

Defensively, he has two problems:

1) His arm isn’t really strong enough to play the position in the majors (which contibuted to his Eastern League-high 27 errors) and…

…he’a already got the Best Thirdbaseman on the Planet and reigning American League MVP in front of him on the organizational food chain.

Prognosis for 2006:

Given his impressive performance in the Fall, the AFL website speculated that the Yankees may be more willing to push Duncan up to AAA Columbus to start 2006, but I doubt that. Most of the players with whom he competed in November were also AA-level players, and heck, it was only a month. He still seems to have some work to do, both on offense (bringing up that average and bringing down the strikeouts) and on defense (moving across the diamond to first base, a switch he began in Arizona). It makes more sense for the Yanks to allow Duncan to work on both issues in Trenton next year, where he may be a little more comfortable, and where he’ll still be among the younger players in the league (only 21, remember). If he hits like crazy for two or three months and learns First Base quickly they may move him up to AAA, but Rodriguez’s continued excellence and the re-emergence of Jason Giambi as an offensive contributor mean that there’s no rush to get Duncan to the show this year.

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