Prospect Retro: Chris Duncan
Chris Duncan was drafted in the supplemental first round of the 1999 draft, out of high school in Tucson, Arizona. He had good power potential, but he had holes in his swing and a bad glove, and most teams saw him as a third-round type talent. . .the fact that his father Dave was the Cardinals pitching coach raised questions of nepotism when his son went in the supplemental round. His pro debut was not very successful: he hit just .214/.300/.353 in the Appalachian League, striking out 62 times in 55 games for Johnson City. At this point he'd rate as a Grade C prospect.
Duncan moved up to Peoria in the Midwest League in 2000, hitting .256/.318/.384 in 122 games. He hit 34 doubles but just eight homers, and strike zone judgment was a problem for him. He also made 35 errors at first base. I put him in the '01 book as a Grade C- prospect since he was still young.
The Cardinals promoted him aggressively to the Carolina League to begin 2001, and he was terrible, hitting .179/.229/.268 in 49 games. He did better after returning to Peoria, hitting .306/.386/.529 with 13 homers and 23 doubles in 80 games. I rated him as Grade C in the 2002 book, noting that he'd improved his strike zone judgment somewhat.
Duncan took another tour of the Midwest League in 2002, hitting .271/.337/.437 with 16 homers in 129 games, working on his defense and trying to refine the strike zone further. But this was now his third go-around the Midwest League, and I was increasingly skeptical that he would pan out as a useful player. Grade C-.
The Cards moved him back up to advanced A-ball in 2003, and he was terrible, hitting just .254/.322/.315 with two homers in 121 games for Palm Beach in the Florida State League. Let's see...22 years old, horrible year in A-ball, bad glove. Not much of a prospect by this point. Grade C-.
All that changed in 2004. Promoted to Double-A, Duncan hit .289/.393/.473 with 16 homers for Tennessee. Most impressive was a dramatic improvement in his strike zone judgment: he drew 64 walks against 94 strikeouts in 387 at-bats. "Chris Duncan is an enigma," I wrote in the 2005 book. I wasn't sure what to make of him. . .the season was out of context. I gave him a Grade C, noting that I wanted to see more but that his progress could be genuine.
Promoted to Triple-A Memphis in '05, he hit .265/.358/.469 with 21 homers. He maintained a decent walk rate and struck out 104 times. He reminded me of guys like Brian Daubach, Paul Sorrento, or Jay Gibbons. . .someone who could hit .240-..260 with 20-25 homers for you if you gave him enough at-bats, not enough to carry your lineup but enough to be useful if deployed properly. I gave him another Grade C in the book this year, writing that his best outcome would be "some form of Brian Daubachdom."
Duncan hit .293/.363/.589 in 90 games for the Cardinals this year, which is certainly much better than I expected. Can he keep this up? I dunno, but check this out:
Chris Duncan, 2006 280 at-bats, 22 homers, .293/.363/.589, 30 walks, 69 strikeouts
Brian Daubach, 1999 381 at-bats, 21 homers, .294/.360/.562, 36 walks, 92 strikeouts
Duncan was 25 this year and Daubach was 27 in 1999, which makes a difference in long-term outlook.