Before the season began, if one had to guess which of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Yankees would be…
Shelley A Completely Different Hitter
He's gotten off to a hot start in Scranton thus far, batting .331 in 42 games, driving in 31 while hitting 12 home runs over the course of that time. These accolades earned him the Player of the Week Award earlier this season.
Shelley Duncan, a career .251 batter entering the season, believes he can continue his current streak deep into this season. He gives much of the credit for this success to hitting coach Butch Wynegar.
"I got a good hitting coach in Butch," said Duncan. "I can't tell you how grateful I am that he's working with me. I've got a new approach at the plate that I feel gives a more consistent chance to get hits, and to hit the ball hard."
He admits to making a few mechanical adjustments this offseason, but believes it's more than that which has allowed him to excel thus far this season. He firmly believes the mental aspect of the game is the most important improvement he has made.
"I really worked on the mental side of the game this offseason and learned a lot of stuff," he admitted. "I honestly feel like I'm a completely different hitter than I have been, mechanically and mentally, in the past five years."
Duncan is well aware that he is more known for his power, not for his batting average. Despite excellent power numbers thus far this season with hits going for extra bases with regularity, Duncan does not look upon himself as a power hitter in all regards.
"I'm looking to drive the ball hard every time I come to the plate. I'm looking to hit the ball hard up the middle - line drives. I've learned over the years, I can't just hit homeruns."
"If I concentrate on hitting hard line drives up the middle, I'll hit homeruns without thinking about it," he said. "I'm confident enough that I know if I go three, four, five days without hitting one, eventually I'll hit a couple."
"That confidence in my mind allows me to hit the ball hard up the middle. I'm not going to give in and take anything off my swing. I'm just focusing on driving the ball hard up the middle."
Another big part of Duncan's game is his ability to play both the infield and the outfield. Duncan, originally an outfielder, took over at first base for a few years while dealing with some arm issues. Last year, Duncan returned to the outfield.
"Last year was the first year my arm was good enough to really be in the outfield," he revealed.
Due to past experience playing all positions, Duncan felt comfortable with his return to the outfield. It did, however, take a lot of time and preparation to move back to the outfield.
"Growing up as a kid, I was a guy who played every position. I got comfortable with that. After I learned how to play first base, I had two years, and then I got thrown back into the outfield. I just have to work at it everyday and be ready."
Despite his return to the outfield, Duncan continues to work on playing both infield and outfield positions on a daily basis. This worked to his advantage for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with the recent injury to Eric Duncan.
"When I got my first day in the infield, I played first there," he said speaking of his April 26th start. "I still stay fresh, just trying to get in work whenever I can. I always want to be ready."
Duncan's work ethic has helped in his continued efforts to work on his approach to the plate and his complete mechanics. He also believes an increase in confidence has had a huge impact on his playing ability.
"A few things mechanically, but once again, what I've learned is this game is more than mental than it is mechanical. I think to have him [Butch Wynegar] create a solid approach in my mind, and help me stick to it everyday, allows me to have confidence everyday."
Manager Dave Miley agreed with the assessment and acknowledged the work Wynegar and Duncan have put in together.
"I think it's the approach that he's taken," he said referring to the increase in batting average from the 2006 season. "I know him and Butch have been working closely together. He's working on hitting the ball up the middle and to right center."
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Duncan's new confidence is the increase under game-breaking situations, including batting with runners in scoring position.
"Hitting with runners in scoring positions is an extremely tough thing. The guys that have been successful in the big leagues, there's a lot to say for that. More than anything, that's where the mental side comes in."
"You really have to bare down on yourself," said Duncan. "I feel more comfortable there than in years past. I'm starting to get that feeling where I want to be in those situations."
In the end, it's been a big season thus far for Shelley Duncan - and he only seems to be improving. When it comes to what he's been for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Dave Miley put it best.
"He's been real big for us."
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