The New & Improved Chris Duncan

Chris Duncan went out and proved that he belonged in the majors last season blasting 22 home runs and slugging .589 in 280 at-bats. The question remains, can he play defense? The answer may surprise you.

The young St. Louis Cardinals slugger is going to surprise a few fans this season, not so much with his bat, but with his glove.

Battling the bright Florida sun and coast winds this spring, in almost every game, Duncan who has described as a butcher in the outfield in the past, has made only one error, while making some very surprising good plays.

Duncan will probably have to win a Gold Glove to get fans to forget about the couple of miscues in the outfield during the postseason last year and the "can't play the field" label that he has been tagged with early in his career.

He made two poor plays in Game Five of the World Series, one called an error and the other one ruled a hit, but it was the error that was followed by a two-run home run off the bat of Detroit's first baseman Sean Casey, that made the fielding blunders of Duncan unforgettable, almost unforgiveable.

The Cardinals went on to win Game Five and eventually the World Series, but the memories of Duncan's erratic play in left that game will probably haunt him almost as long as the infamous grounder off of the bat of Mookie Wilson in the 1986 World Series, through Boston's first baseman Bill Buckner's legs, haunted him.

The butcher label on Duncan is pretty harsh. He's a natural first baseman who moved to the outfield to find a place to play for St. Louis. Cardinal fans should appreciate that effort on his part and his contributions to St. Louis ballclub last season that helped the team to win their first World Championship in 24 years.

While it is too early for him to look forward to a Gold Glove type season, he has played left field very well this spring. In one of the first games of the Grapefruit League season, I saw Duncan came in on a shallow fly ball that appeared to falling in for a base hit, only for him to pick it off the top of his shoes at the last second and come up with it, gunning down the runner trying to get back to first for a double-play that initially looked like a sure base hit.

If I told you before spring training that on March 18th, 19 games into spring training, that Duncan would have a better fielding percentage going into Sunday's game than teammates Skip Schumaker and So Taguchi, I'm sure you would take the time to double-check my stats with some more official, authority figure.

Former St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Larry Walker, a six-time Gold Glove Award winner in his career has been working with Duncan to help get him ready to start the season as the Cardinals everyday left fielder.

The extra work on defense is paying off, particularly in the last couple of weeks, where Duncan is making plays look routine that I thought he might have had trouble handling last season.

Of course one thing you don't have to concern yourself with is his bat. This spring Duncan has been batting in the #2 spot, if he stays in that spot at the start of the season, he can expect a steady diet of fastballs hitting in front of Pujols.

Going into Sunday's game against the New York Mets, Duncan spring training offensive stats look like Stan's Musial career stats in the St. Louis Cardinals record book.

Duncan, seeing a lot of playing time and facing a lot of right-hander pitchers leads the Cardinals in almost every offensive category this spring; (47) at-bats, (9) runs, (13) hits, (4) home runs, (9) RBI, (27) total bases and his 16 games played is good enough for second and his six bases on balls is third best.

There was a lot of talk this winter about maybe trading Duncan for a starting pitcher before it's all over, Cardinal fans are going to be glad St. Louis kept him in a Cardinals uniform.

This season he's going to hit, in the two hole in front of Albert Pujols, Duncan could potentially hit 30 plus homers this year, but trust me, he's going to surprise you with his glove.

It's the new and improved Chris Duncan, coming to a ballpark near you.

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