I always feel kind of bad for Shelley Duncan. It seems like he can never catch a break. He’s a second-generation MLB player (son of former catcher and pitching coach Dave Duncan) and also has a younger brother, Chris, who is a former MLB first baseman and outfielder. The game is in his blood, and he’s been at it a long time.
Duncan was drafted and signed by the Yankees in 2001. He spent years slowly moving through the Yankees’ system, finally making his major league debut on July 20, 2007. He bounced back and forth between AAA and The Show, and played 34 games at the major league level, including 3 games in the 2007 ALDS, in which he went 2-4. That wasn’t enough. More bouncing back and forth in 2008, playing 23 games in the majors, then only 11 in 2009. He was granted free agency at the end of the 2009 season and we picked him up in January 2010. And he’s done the same dance between AAA and the majors with the Indians.
Over the last two seasons, he’s started to grow on me. I like his work ethic. And I admire persistence. With all the injuries the Indians sustained near the end of the season, Duncan had a chance to play pretty much every day from August 23 through the end of the season. And he stepped up his game, hitting 7 home runs in September with 23 RBI. I thought/hoped that might be enough to get him off the bench this year. After all, we need a big right-handed bat. Maybe he could even platoon with Hafner as DH. Things looked hopeful.
Then we signed Grady Sizemore to a one-year contract, putting him in center (theoretically) and Michael Brantley in left, and got Casey Kotchman for first base, and it looked like Duncan would go back to the bench.
When I heard this week that Sizemore injured his back and will be out for the foreseeable future, I thought maybe Duncan would be the logical choice to start at left. But the 40-man roster is full of potential outfielders all looking for a job–not only Duncan but Aaron Cunningham, Nick Weglarz, Thomas Neal, and Ezequiel Carrera. Duncan is older than any of them. He has three years on Sizemore, almost three years on Choo, and seven or eight years on every other guy on the roster with whom he’s competing for a spot in the outfield.
And he keeps plugging along.
Shelley Duncan was one of the players who participated in the Tribe on Tour event last month, along with Vinnie Pestano, Jason Kipnis, Jason Donald, Jack Hannahan, and Josh Tomlin. One of the things that struck me was that Shelley Duncan seemed a lot bigger and beefier than most of his teammates. Not ‘roid big, just muscular. The guy works hard.
I know that baseball is not a Horatio Alger story, where hard work and determination always win out. You have to produce at a certain level and produce consistently (okay, produce consistently or at least have consistently produced at one time with the potential to consistently produce in the future). Duncan slammed a huge three-run homer in yesterday’s loss to the Reds. Perhaps the hard work and determination will pay off for him. I hope so. I’d like to see him off the bench and playing more.