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Shelley Duncan, selected by the New York Yankees in the 2nd round of the 2001 MLB Draft, has excelled throughout the minor league ranks at a fairly consistent pace. He has never spent more than two seasons with a ball club at the minor league level as he remains relatively young.
His longest tenure with a club came at Single-A Tampa in 2003 and 2004. Duncan appeared on the scene in 2005 as he legitimized himself as a serious prospect within the organization. He set career highs in runs (86), hits (129), doubles (28), HR (34) and RBI (92).
With first baseman Eric Duncan getting recalled to Trenton from Columbus, Shelley was forced to move to left field and has had no problem adjusting.
“I have a good grasp of how to play the position,” said Duncan, who actually grew up playing the outfield. “I got a lot of time at Spring Training in the outfield and I’m just going out there and trying to work as hard as I can and just relax and feel comfortable.”
Duncan was called up from Trenton to Columbus on June 19th and in six games with the Clippers, has yet to make an error and did not make an error while playing the outfield in Trenton either. But even though Duncan has played the outfield before, one concern may be his conditioning.
“You have to be a little more in shape with sprinting on and off the field, chasing foul balls,” Thunder manager Bill Masse said. “At first base, you just lug around the bag a little bit but he’s caught on pretty good.”
While Duncan seems to be transitioning well back to the outfield, it sure hasn’t had any effect on his hitting much to the surprise of Masse.
“I thought it would have an adverse affect but that hasn’t been the case,” Masse said.
During the first week of his shift to the outfield with the Thunder, Duncan was named the Eastern League Player of the Week for the second time this season. He went 9-for-21 (.429) with five homers, nine RBIs, six runs scored and a 1.143 slugging percentage in six games. Duncan is currently hitting .300 with one home run and three RBIs in twenty at-bats with Columbus.
“He has to put together consistent at-bats every day and he gets in some streaks where he’ll get real hot and real cold,” Masse said. “He has to be more consistent day in and day out.”
Duncan added that he is trying to keep things as simple as possible when he steps up to bat: “Get a good pitch to hit, see it, and hit it hard.”
Taking his simple approach to the highest minor league level, differences can be realized quite easily when making the jump from Double-A to Triple-A. Since being recalled from Trenton, Duncan admits he has yet to experience major changes in Columbus. The change of scenery and environment can present an immediate impact on a minor leaguer and the same can be said for Duncan.
Duncan told PinstripesPlus.com, “I’ve only had about 15 to 20 at-bats so far this season and I don’t think it’s enough to pinpoint a significant difference. The overall difference in everything is the behind the scenes stuff like the travel, the stadium, the locker room and the players.”
It may be safe to say that the theme of the Yankees organization at this point in the season is the fact that outfielders have been on the move consistently, especially in Columbus. Outfielders have ranged from receiving a promotion to New York to being demoted to Trenton. In some cases they say their farewell as some have been released. In other words, outfielders cannot get too comfortable in the organization and need to remain on their toes.
The thought of Duncan in pinstripes by season’s end is without a doubt a long shot, however, it remains a possibility. 2006 has been a season of injuries for the Yankees and with a solid bat, Duncan may be an injury away from being in a place he never envisioned at the beginning of the season. With that said, Duncan refuses to get his hopes up.
“I come to the field everyday focused on what I have to do. Realistically, I understand how an organization works and I know there are a lot of guys on the roster and they would have to take somebody off. I understand that and I just try to get better everyday,” admitted Duncan.
If you look at his career statistics, most are going to come to the conclusion that Duncan is purely a power hitter. He has never hit over .267 in his professional career, so it is a fair thought. Duncan says that he doesn’t want to be labeled as strictly a power hitter.
“Hitting in the middle of the lineup, if somebody asked me what my role was, it would be that I provide a lot of power. I like to think of myself as more of a drive-the-ball type hitter because I want to put together solid at-bats every time,” said Duncan.
Even with a mentality that is not always focused on power, Duncan realizes that power will always come with the territory.
“I understand that the power will be there when I need it. It’s one of those things where I don’t need to try to be a power hitter but I know that’s what I do,” said Duncan.
Even though he has yet to achieve his dream of wearing a big league uniform, Duncan remains enthused that he has made it to the next level. He possesses the right mentality of wanting to learn from other players who have been in Columbus. Duncan is prepared to learn valuable lessons while having fun at the same time.
“Anytime you move up to the next level you feel like you’re that much closer. It’s neat here because knowing my situation, I am able to be comfortable and relaxed. It’s fun to see the emotions that run through the locker room,” said Duncan.
In 66 games with Trenton, Duncan hit .257 with 20 doubles, 15 HR, and 43 RBI. In six games with Columbus he already has a home run and a double to his credit. It is safe to say that, thus far, Duncan has been your typical power hitter.
So far in 2006, Duncan is unsure of how he feels about his season. He reiterates that the season is like a marathon and it’s tough to judge until you look back on the season as a whole. He admits that focus and concentration are a necessity for consistency.
“It’s a really long season. One of the toughest battles I’ve faced is coming to the field and forgetting about what I’ve done in the past. If I can put today in my focus, at the end of the season, I’ll be confident that it was a good one,” said Duncan.
Columbus hitting coach Kevin Long is excited from his first impressions of the young outfielder. Long is the type of coach who is going to tell it like he sees it and he sees nothing but potential for Duncan.
“I think Shelley is going to be a very good player, not only at this level but he has a good chance of playing in the big leagues. He’s a big, strong kid who can knock the ball out of the ballpark at any time. He has a good concept of his strike zone and I really like what I’ve seen so far,” said Long.
Duncan may provide plenty of power numbers, however, hitting for average has never been one of his strengths and it remains to be his focus of improvement. A good hitter and a power hitter are very different and Duncan is aiming to excel in both areas.
“What I really want to try to accomplish is being a good hitter. That means I need to take good at-bats improve on my strengths and understand the pitcher,” said Duncan.
Triple-A baseball can present an entirely different culture from the Double-A level, even if it is hard to believe. Duncan admits it is impossible to expect everything that is going to come with playing in Columbus.
“My brother has been in Triple-A for two years so he gives me more of a feel for how things are but it’s not something you can guess,” said Duncan.
It is tough to predict how Duncan’s overall game will pan out. However, one thing that you can be certain of is that Duncan’s name could be very well known throughout the Yankees organization in the very near future, now as an outfielder.
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