From the AFL: Eric Duncan

At just 20 years old, and with a new position to play, Eric Duncan had a lot on his mind coming into the 2005 Arizona Fall League. Apparently though Duncan has found something to calm himself, he's hitting home runs. Few have questioned Duncan's bat, but those who have are now busy backtracking, while Duncan's busy getting better by the day.

To be blunt, the numbers Eric Duncan put up this year don't typically qualify someone 'top prospect' status, and they don't typically earn a player an invite to the Arizona Fall League.  Duncan hit just .235 for Yankee affiliate Trenton of the Double-A Eastern League, with 19 homers and 61 RBI.  Solid numbers, but a little low for one of the brightest stars in the Yankee organization.

Still, there's another number, another low number, that helps explain Duncan's presence on the Grand Canyon Rafters.


As in years old.  Any player that young, with that kind of power, who can even hold their own in Double-A is going to get a second, third, and fourth look, and the AFL is providing that for the young slugger.  It's also providing a new spot for him to play, one that might carry a much faster track to the big leagues than his regular position, third base. 

"I'm down here to play first, that's what the coaches told me," Duncan said before a recent Rafters game, "I played there the other night."

While switching positions can be a red flag that an organization is disappointed in a player's production, in this instance it appears a move designed to get Duncan to the bigs faster.  After all, third base is pretty much locked up in Yankee Stadium for awhile.

"I think it's always a plus to be able to play more than one spot, and obviously, third base is pretty solid right now for the club." 

For many players there is a specific objective in the AFL, whether it be a defensive switch, a glitch in the swing, bunting, taking the ball the other way, or myriad other objectives.  But for a player as young as Duncan, specific goals aren't as important as the all around game, and that includes the work at first base.  Through Monday, Duncan had started at first in only one of the five games he'd played.

"I'm just happy to be playing, it's an honor to be here for sure, I'm basically doing the same things I was doing during the season, working on my hitting, continuing to work at first base, just working hard on my game."

It's a different situation than a lot of the players in AFL, who are trying to correct the one or two things that are holding them back from a spot on the big league club.  Duncan knows that, and he knows that he's probably a little farther away from the parent club than some of the other prospects here. 

"The biggest thing that I'm working on down here is consistency.  I'll go through hot streaks and cold streaks, offensively and defensively, and that's not the kind of player I want to be.  I want to be dependable."

One of the coaches that been working with Duncan the most is John Mallee, from the Florida Marlins organization.  It's a change for Duncan, who's spent his entire pro career in the Yankees organization, but one the youngster believes should help him.

"When you're down here, you've got all these resources, and I just want to get as much good input as possible."  He proves this by trailing off as he eavesdrops on a coach working with another player during BP, "Sorry, I'm just always trying to pick things up.  Each organization has a different spin on how to get things done, and they're all trying to accomplish the same things.  Maybe I can learn something from another coach here that just didn't click with the coaches I've known."

For Duncan, that includes making more contact, and again, as far as he's concerned, that's where the consistency comes in.

"Nobody's ever harped on my strikeout numbers."

Even after a season in which he struck out 136 times in 451 at bats?

"No, in fact I think the coaches are real conscious of not doing that.  If you try to adjust too much to prevent strikeouts, a lot of times it ends up knocking you off your game.  Obviously, I want to make more contact, because you can't help the team when you strikeout, but instead of changing the whole approach, the coaches and I think there are little things that I can do that will help."

It appears to be working.  Through the 11th of October, Duncan was on fire.  He's hitting a robust .522, with five homers in 23 at bats.  Even more appealing, he's had a hit in every game he's played, driven in a run in every game he's played, and stuck out only three times.  Could all those opinions, all those coaches, and all that talent be coming together to turn Eric Duncan into the next big thing?

"I'm just down here working," Duncan says, "I try to leave all that speculation to the people who make the decisions.  I'm taking it all in, trying to earn everybody's respect."

Even though he will likely not be the first of this group of players to make it to the bigs, it might end up being that Eric Duncan has more to gain than anyone else in the AFL this season.  Young, with power, ability, and poise beyond his years, Duncan might end up being one of the brightest hopes in the Yankee minors.  As long he continues to work on...well...everything.

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