Everyone likes to see the New York Yankees reel in the big free agent catches and snatch big time players like Alex Rodriguez in the trade market. However, there is no feeling like seeing a player work his way through the system and become a great player before our very eyes. Many fans have been searching for that player to come up since Derek Jeter burst onto the scene in his rookie year, 1996. But, to their dismay, it just has not happened. There were some near misses along the way though. Nick Johnson came and went. Drew Henson soon became a thorn in the side rather than a Yankee great. Ricky Ledee is now just a fourth outfielder for the Phillies. Those are just to name a few in recent years. So, is there a light at the end of this tunnel? The answer is yes and that light just might be Eric Duncan.
Eric Duncan has been an immediate impact player in the Yankee Farm System since he was drafted in June of 2003. He played fantastic baseball last year and has done just as well this year. However, he had one hideous slump this season that skewed his overall statistics. However, besides an absolutely awful slump, his statistics are still fantastic. Duncan started his season in low A Battle Creek. He had a sizzling hot start to the year and was batting .300 until he ran into the worst slump of his young career. In 78 games, he batted .264 with 12 home runs and a team leading 57 RBI. The batting average is not so alarming when you consider the type of slump he went through. For most of the season, he was a consistent .300 hitter.
When you hear some of the stories about Eric Duncan, it can't help but remind you of Derek Jeter. While Duncan is a completely different style of player than Jeter is, they both personify "what a Yankee should be". It is said that, over the winter, Duncan went through a rigorous workout routine just make himself into a more agile and athletic player. He increased his vertical leap by over six inches. He has also worked tremendously hard to improve his defense at third base. The 2003 1st round selection has the perfect demeanor for a ballplayer. The quiet personality is there but the overall intensity for the game is a quality that could set him apart. "I've always been a third baseman and I'd always like to be a third baseman. I'm working really hard to stay there. But, I play for the Yankees and I respect whatever they want me to do, and I'll move to first base if that's what they ask of me, but I'm working my tail off there to stay a third baseman," said Duncan about the possibility of making a move to first base. At this point, it seems that we will have no other choice but to make the switch if he wants to have his future in the Yankee organization. The presence of Alex Rodriguez is the obvious reason for that.
Of course, being a Yankee prospect, there are always going to be some trade rumors surrounding your career in the minors. Eric Duncan is no different in this case. At this very moment, Duncan is a topic of discussion in the on going trade rumors regarding Randy Johnson coming to the Yankees. According to several reports, he is the prospect that Diamondbacks scouts came away the most impressed with. Arizona believes that he is the player in the Yankee system that is the closest to the big leagues. Those are strong words considering that Dioner Navarro is sitting in AAA. Here is what Duncan had to say regarding the trade rumors. "It truly hasn't [entered my mind]. Especially how the Yankees are, where stuff happens so quickly between rumors and things actually happening, you can't think about it. I just think about what I have to do in the next game." Arizona Diamondbacks scout, Brian Lambe, certainly does have his eye on Duncan though. His sweet, compact swing has lured him in. Lambe has relayed the message to his general manager that Duncan is one they should shoot for if a trade were to go down.
George Steinbrenner has earned the reputation of recklessly trading prospects but in a strange way, has the organization known just when to hold onto someone. Trade offers circulated constantly around Derek Jeter while he made his way through the minors. However, the Yankees never pulled the trigger. The same goes for Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. So, maybe they do know just when to hold onto those young, future bombers greats. The question is, will they balk at trading the possible player hat is the next of this Yankee breed of player? We will have to see.
Projected Stats in 600 AB Season: .264 BA, 25 HR, 119 RBI, 15 SB, 88 BB, 171 SO, 48 2b
Here is a look at what Duncan would bring in a projected 600 at bat season. His production numbers are flat out fantastic despite his horrible month long slump. Some would gasp at the number of strikeouts but for such a young player, it is not that much of a worry at this point. One must remember that this young man is still only 19 years of age. He has started off pretty well in Tampa and if he continues to play well, it is very likely that he could start in AA Trenton next season.
Just looking at this guy swing a bat, a Yankee fan can't help but be excited about what could be down the road for him. He models himself after Paul O'neill and while he is not as vocal about it, he takes that same attitude out to the ball field every day. "What impresses me about Duncan is at 19 years old he already has developed the mind sight of trying to hit the ball to the opposite field. He's more of a doubles hitter right now than a homerun guy, and I can think of several times when the outfield has played him to pull and he's sprayed a double to left-center," said Battle Creek play by play voice, Jeff Hem regarding Duncan. Anyone else think that sounds like Paul O'neill? Either way, Eric Duncan is not just another player passing through the farm system. No one that sees him, comes away unimpressed. One part Jeter, one part O'neill could only equal the possibility of another homegrown Yankee icon.