Trenton manager Bill Masse calls it the best defensive infield in the Eastern League. While a remark like that is always controversial, the Thunder infield is a diverse group of guys who make the plays and lead the team. With the Thunder fighting to stay above .500, they need the infield to continue to produce in order to make the playoffs.
The everyday lineup consists of 25-year old Shelly Duncan at first base, 26-year old Andy Cannizaro at shortstop, a platoon of 33-year old Yobal Duenas and 25-year old JT Stotts at second base, and the Yankees #1 prospect, 20-year old Eric Duncan at third. While each player has taken different roads to get to Trenton, they seem to look like they have been playing together for years.
Shelly Duncan is a typical power hitter who, with 14 home runs and 40 RBI, leads the Eastern League in both categories. As the career leader in home runs at the University of Arizona, Duncan developed a work ethic that has rubbed off on his new teammates.
"He is a very high energy guy," Cannizaro said. "When you see a guy with his numbers working hard everyday, it makes you that much better. It is also nice to have a 6'5" guy over there at first."
|STREAKY HITTER: Andy Cannizaro has a .251 average this season, despite four three-hit games. (Photo: Bryan Hoch/Scout.com)|
"For some reason I haven't had that long stretch of good games at the plate this year," Cannizaro said. "Once I started off badly, I started pressing and looking for only middle of the plate in pitches. Now, I am starting to try and slap the ball up the middle and it is starting to turn around."
To Cannizaro's left is usually a different face each game. With Cuban-born Yobal Duenas and J.T. Stotts splitting time at second base, the Thunder are filling a void that Gabe Lopez left when he was promoted to Class AAA Columbus on May 28. Stotts, who recently retired only to come out of retirement, can play all of the infield positions, making him a commodity for Masse. However, losing Lopez was tough on the Thunder morale.
"Gabe was more of a talking guy, always chatting it up," Masse said. "He was the heart and soul of this team and it is hard to lose that kind of component. But the other guys will just have to step it up."
|LEVEL HEAD: Yankees top prospect Eric Duncan believes "it isn't how fast you get to the major leagues, it is how long you stay there." (Photo: Bryan Hoch/Scout.com).|
"Obviously, it is everybody's goal to advance and get to the big leagues as soon as possible and I will get there when I am ready to get there," Duncan told Pinstripes Plus. "I was told once that it isn't how fast you get to the major leagues, it is how long you stay there."
Duncan is batting only .245, but he has come on as of late, lifting his average from .218 in the past couple of weeks. He has worked hard in the batting cage and never misses a chance to get some extra ground balls in. His talents have shined despite the slow start, and Masse can see it.
"Eric is going to be fine," Masse said. "The great thing about him is you don't have to tell him to do anything. He has unparalleled work ethic and that is what makes him so special. He's going to right his ship."
Cannizaro agreed: "With all the hype surrounding him, you never know what to expect. But with Eric, he is always in the cage or on the field before the game trying to get better. You cannot ask for much more than that and it has been great playing alongside of him."
Trenton's infield can change the game in different ways on different days. Whether Cannizaro is turning double plays, Shelly Duncan is blasting one of his trademark home runs, or Eric Duncan is making a backhand stab to rob a double, this infield is becoming like clockwork with each passing game. And as the season gets into full swing, they will need to keep improving to win the Eastern League.
"These guys all feed off one another," Masse said. "Andy and Shelly played together last year and that really shows. They are all getting better everyday and with experience comes wins."
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