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Playoff Prospect Retro: Shelley Duncan

Playoff Prospect Retro: Shelley Duncan

Our last playoff prospect retro is for Shelley Duncan of the Yankees. Tomorrow I will summarize this series of retros, then on Monday we will start reviewing Crystal Balls.

Duncan was drafted in the second round by the Yankees in 2001, from the University of Arizona. He was well-known to scouts, being the son of pitching coach Dave Duncan and the brother of Cardinals outfielder Chris Duncan. Shelley was respected for his power bat, but his other tools were considered below average. If his name had been "Shelley Davis" rather than "Shelley Duncan," he might have gone several rounds lower in the draft. Duncan was assigned to Staten Island in the New York Penn League and hit .245/.311/.410 in 70 games. He'd rate as a Grade C prospect; his pro debut wasn't exactly strong.

The Yankees moved Duncan up to Greensboro in the Sally League in 2002. He hit .267/.375/.461 in 101 games, hitting 14 homers and drawing 59 walks. He even stole 15 bases in 18 attempts despite his lack of speed. I maintained his rating as Grade C, liking his power and patience but noting that as a college player from an advanced program, he should do well in the Sally League. I wanted to see more.

Promoted to Tampa in the Florida State League for 2003, Duncan was limited to 91 games by injury and hit .264/.336/.406. I didn't put him in the 2004 book for space reasons, but he'd still be a Grade C.. Can't say a .406 slugging percentage from a 23 year old outfielder in A-ball is very impressive.

Duncan returned to Tampa in 2004 and hit .248/.336/.450 with 19 homers, stronger production obviously. He moved from outfield to first base, increasing the pressure on him to hit, and while he boosted his power output in a difficult league, he was repeating the league at age 24. Still a grade C, and looking more and more like a "minor league slugger" type.

The Yankees moved him up to Double-A in 2005. He hit .240/.323/.490 with 34 homers, unleashing more of his power. But .240 in Double-A? His MLE was about .225/.300/.440. Grade C.

Duncan repeated Double-A in 2006, hitting .256/.327/.487 in 92 games. A 12-game trial at Triple-A Columbus did not go well: .186/.271/.279. I got a lot of questions about him from Yankees fans, so I put him in the book this year. I wrote that he was probably destined to be a Double-A/Triple-A slugger, but I also wrote this: "If he goes on a hot streak at the right time, he might emerge as a platoon first baseman/OF/DH type, sort of what happened to Shane Spencer a few years back." Grade C.

And that's exactly what happened in 2007. Duncan got hot and hit .295/.380/.577 in Triple-A, some 50 points of batting average/OBP more than he'd shown before. He hit .257/.329/.554 in 34 games for the Yankees, and is now in the picture as a platoon first baseman/OF/DH type. . .just like Shane Spencer. This looks like a classic Age 27 performance spike, but he timed it right, and in cases like this, first impressions matter a lot in the minds of coaches and scouts.