The Sad Case of Eric Duncan

Most astute baseball fans can list several first-round draft picks that failed to live up to expectations. Their careers could have been derailed by drugs, alcohol or sex addiction. In some cases, their style of play may not have worked at the minor league level. In some cases, they are just mismanaged. One case will always stick out to Yankee fans, however: that of infielder Eric Duncan.

Drafted in the first-round of the 2003 amateur draft, Eric Duncan and the Yankees appeared to be a match made in heaven. The Yankees needed to bolster their farm system and add a player whom fans could get excited about. They needed the next Derek Jeter: a true blue fan of the Bronx Bombers with enough baseball talent to spent his career in pinstripes. Duncan, a New Jersey native and high school standout fit the bill.

A player’s first 100 at-bats in the minors are never a good indication of how he’ll perform later in his career, but Duncan’s early performance suggested that the Yankees had a very special player on their hands. In 61 games split between Staten Island and the GCL Yanks, Duncan posted a .301/.364/.473 line. Although he made an astounding 17 errors at third base, the sky appeared to be the limit for the 18 year-old.

Unfortunately, the sky was a lot closer than everyone  thought. Duncan never really enjoyed a solid season after his rookie year. Once the Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez in 2004, things took a turn for the worst. Duncan was shifted to first base. Forced to learn a new position while adjusting to the competition at the Triple-A level, the he continued to struggle at the plate. You could say that he was rushed, or perhaps he was over matched. Either way, the higher he rose in the farm system, the lower his batting average got. He was ultimately relegated to bench duty over the course of his final two seasons with the Scranton, posting a .203 batting average during the 2009 season.

We’ll never know for sure what went wrong here. I personally think that he was rushed through the system and will eventually emerge as a semi-productive major league player in the future, but that could be a few years away. Some could argue that he never had the talent to make it in the big leagues, but I suppose we’ll have to wait until he official hangs up his cleats before that is decided.

Duncan is only 25 years-old, but he already has 744 minor league games under his belt. Now a member of the Atlanta Braves Double-A affiliate, the infielder is enjoying success at the plate. Hitting .441 and posting a 1.044 OPS in 12 games, Duncan could improve his stock this year.One thing is for sure. I don’t know how sad someone’s case can be when they are playing baseball for a living. Still, here’s to Duncan finding his groove and making it to the majors.

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4 Responses to The Sad Case of Eric Duncan

  1. Mike S. says:

    Years ago, I wrote that he'd never make it. I saw another Drew Henson (remember him?). I got blasted. Now was I right or what? Granted I was interested and excited when he was drafted and signed. But then I saw him at AA and AAA and was NOT impressed. Hence my writing that he'd never make it. This was a few years ago. I remember the criticism I got. I wish the people who wrote me then would apologize now. I know…never happen. Maybe he rights himself. I just know this. I didn't like what I saw.

    • Mike S. says:

      Just need to add this. Let's remember that he was dropped down a level. After 3+ years in AAA, he's back at AA. I think he was rushed to the next level too quickly. After just 51 games, .254-4-26 at high A in 2004, he started 2005 at AA. Too soon for me. Those stats merited a promotion? Predictably, he hit .235 for AA Trenton in 2005, albeit with 19 HR. He started 2006 in AA, as he should have. You then hope for improvement. He did have 10 HR in 57 games, but just a .248 BA. To me, not promotion-worthy. He got moved up. Predictably again, he struggled at AAA. .209 in 110 AB. No HR. 2007-2009 saw him at AAA, and saw him get progressively worse. .241/.233/.204. I don't know if the position changes had as much to do with it as the promotions. To me, those .254 and .248 batting averages didn't merit promotions. Maybe the promotions were necessary because of a lack of depth, I can't recall. But one needs to handle one level before being promoted to the next. Duncan, with the .248 and .254, hadn't shown that. The (inevitable?) result was what we saw. Struggles at the next level and an inability to handle the next level and improve his game. I wish him well, but…

  2. Steve says:

    How are you going to say he was rushed? He's a first round pick! He's supposed to dominate the minors after getting paid. This is why teams should stay away from high school kids and go after college players who have already matured and faced better competition.

  3. Geary R says:

    I watched Eric play for the GCL Yanks in his first year. He looked then like he was every thing they said he was. Sorry that he never lived to his potential. Got to meet his parents when they came to his games in Tampa. Seemed like really nice folks.