A story over at MLB.com caught this writer's eye today. That happens every once in a while when certain headlines are read quickly and the headline reads, "Duncan prepared to be more than a role player." So the Fan went ahead and clicked the link with a scoff waiting to form at the back of the throat. Seriously!? Shelly Duncan? Duncan, of course, is the son of Dave Duncan, Einstein pitching coach with the World Champion, St. Louis Cardinals. Shelly's real first name is David too, but "Shelly" avoids the confusion. The MLB.com story certainly paints a rosy picture for Duncan in his .293 heroics in the last 43 games of the 2011 season. But the reality continues to be that Duncan has been pegged as a role player for so long that it's hard to imagine anything else for him. He is 32 years old after all.
Who knows if Shelly Duncan could have been a star. He was drafted eleven years ago by the Yankees in the second round. Before Brian Cashman got his way and started banking on home gown talent again, the Yankee reality from 2001 until the latter part of that decade was that young players were trade bait. The Yankees would fill their major league roster with older, more established players. Therefore, you got the endless parade of Ruben Sierra/Gary Sheffield types to play with over-padded paychecks while guys like Shelly Duncan were never realistically going to get a chance.
And so Shelly Duncan became lost in that endless shuffle as a 4A player who never got traded in those big deals. He had his first cup of coffee for the Yankees in 2007 and made quite a scene in 83 plate appearances. He belted seven homers good for an .883 OPS. But Spring Training came around again in 2008 and Duncan didn't fit. Subsequent cups of coffee in 2008 and 2009 produced diminishing returns. After eight years in the Yankees' system, he was going nowhere and was finally a free agent after the 2009 season. He signed with the Cleveland Indians.
Duncan saw his most amount of playing time with the Indians in 2010 getting into 85 games covering 259 plate appearances. His .736 OPS was hardly inspiring, nor was his 29.3 percent strikeout rate. But his wOBA wasn't bad at .324 and surprisingly for such a big guy, his defensive metrics weren't bad. In 2011, he again split time between Triple A and the majors but after the first half, his OPS stood at .674. He probably would have sunk into oblivion if the Indians hadn't had an outfield that couldn't stay out of the trainer's room. All the outfielders got hurt and somebody had to play out there. Duncan was given the call and had the second half mentioned earlier.
So what does it all mean? Choo will be back and Brantley will be back. So will Shelly Duncan get any kind of shot to get significant playing time? And should he? After parts of five seasons, Duncan has about a season's worth of plate appearances at 669. Judged by his slash line of .239/.313/.441, it hardly inspires much. But in those season worth of appearances, he has hit 30 homers and 31 doubles and has driven in 105 runs. So maybe...maybe what? If you clicked over to that link that started this piece, you get the words of Jim Thome who calls Duncan, "a monster." Thome has been around long enough to inspire a listen. Plus, Thome himself carved out a lot of serious WAR well into the late stages of his career.
Is there anybody like Duncan out there we can look at? Well there's Michael Morse, who was drafted a year after Duncan and who was similarly passed over a number of years before his breakout season last year. But Morse is two years younger on one hand and a much worse fielder than Duncan on the other. Is Morse a good comp? Could a full time Duncan put together a 4 WAR season?
Such a season might not be beyond the levels of reason. Brantley can play center, Choo in right and Shelly Duncan can play left. Such an outfield isn't horrible defensively and could be quite good offensively. We all know that Sizemore isn't in the mix anymore, so why not? There are few other options the Indians have without dipping into trade and free agent waters.
It's certainly a possibility that Duncan could get a shot full time and there is just as much a possibility that he can succeed. It just sounds awfully weird doesn't it? You have to root for a guy like Duncan. He's played 976 minor league games including 355 in Triple A. His Triple A OPS is .883. If he can put together an .850 OPS and hit thirty homers, would you take that for league minimum pay? This writer would. It's just the skeptics in us that find the notion unreasonable.