Friday, July 20, 2007

Shelley Duncan: Cup of Coffee

Peter Abraham of the Journal News reports that the Yankees will purchase the contract of 27-year old Shelley Duncan from their AAA team in Scranton. Duncan will join the team the day after setting the franchise single-season home run record for Scranton (dating back to their days as a Phillies affiliate), slugging his 25th home run last night in a win over Indianapolis.

We here at Immaculate Inning are happy to celebrate the long-deserved major league debuts of older prospects. So we present Shelley Duncan with his Eight O'Clock Cup of Coffee (not sponsored by Eight O'Clock.)

Duncan steps into a Yankees clubhouse that has been feeling good since the All-Star break. Most of the lineup is hitting well so far in July, aside from Alex Rodriguez (who is forgiven, because 4 of his 12 hits this month have been homers), and Johnny Damon:
Season: .233/.337/.323
July: .158/.338/.175
Damon has also been nursing a bum foot all season, and his reluctance to go on the DL has made the highly paid Damon a designated hitter. Those numbers, then, put him on track to be the worst DH of all time. Of the 88 hitters in the American League who qualify for the batting title, Damon ranks 77th in OPS, ahead of only some rookies, some middle infielders, and Jason Kendall.
Duncan, meanwhile, is hitting .295/.380/.577 for Scranton Wilkes-Barre this season, and was the Yankees' only representive in the AAA All-Star Game. He has 25 homers and 82 strikeouts in 336 at bats this season, which puts him somewhere between Adam Dunn and Jason Giambi in terms of plate discipline. A former second-round draft pick, Duncan took his time going through the system, with the only other encouraging year coming in 2005 when he slugged 30 homers for AA Trenton. The son of Cardinals' pitching coach Dave Duncan and older brother of St. Louis' breakout player Chris Duncan, Shelley looks to add some pop to the Yankees DH and bench situations.
Should Shelley Duncan be used in the proper manner (that is, at DH instead of Damon), he should be useful for the Yankees until the return of Jason Giambi. He could potentially be the next in line of old-ish rookies to make an impact in late season callups. In late 1990, Kevin Maas brought excitement to the worst Yankees team in 80 years when he was called up after Don Mattingly went down with a back injury. Having put up decent numbers in the minors, Maas put on a power show, hitting 21 homers in 254 at bats.
Eight years later, a polar opposite Yankees team got some late-season excitement from Shane Spencer. With the division clinched in early September, the Home Run DiSpencer had put up a slugging percentage of .530 in AAA before getting his Cup of Coffee. He went on to hit ten homers in just 67 at bats (a SLG of .910!) and was even placed on the postseason roster.
Both Maas and Spencer never found sustained major league success, and it is likely that Shelley Duncan will follow a similar pattern. But, recent Yankees history has examples of late-20s rookies stepping in with immediate impact, and a Spencer/Maas-like contribution could be the spark that makes the seven game deficit disappear.
No matter how he plays, making the major leagues is the dream of every minor leaguer, and he's surely ecstatic right now. Whether it's espresso or a half-caf skim-milk latte, it's a Cup of Coffee, and that's good enough for recognition.

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