Duncan Has Early Inside Track On Left Field Spot
Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who are battling for a chance to make the Opening Day roster.
By Craig Gifford
Shelley Duncan entered Spring Training as a heavy favorite to land one of the Indians’ backup outfielder jobs. Now, he is a prime candidate to break camp as a starter on Opening Day.
When Grady Sizemore went down with a back injury–the latest in a long line of ailments for the former all-star–Duncan landed on the short list of possibilities to play in the Tribe outfield alongside Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Brantley.
Duncan and offseason acquisition Aaron Cunningham are out of minor league options, leading to the notion that those two would be hard to part ways with after Spring Training. Duncan’s history with the Indians, however, probably gives him a leg up in the race for the starting left field (assuming Brantley takes over center) spot for Cleveland.
Duncan, an outfielder who can also play first base, had a breakout season in 2011 at the age of 31. He had career highs with 11 home runs and 47 RBI in 76 games and 223 at bats. That is essentially half a season of work. Average that out to a full season and Duncan would have topped 20 home runs and 100 RBI – a fine season by any stretch.
Cunningham, Duncan’s likely main candidate to take over Sizemore’s starting role, is only 25. However, in four years with Oakland and San Diego, he has provided little production. He has had a wealth of minor league success. Just last year, Cunningham batted .329 while belting nine home runs in 87 games at AAA Tucson. He has hit well in the minors, but has not had the success in the big leagues.
This is not to say Cunningham cannot get it going as he is young and starting fresh with a new organization. There are also a handful of minor league contract invitees the Indians invited to Spring Training with the idea Sizemore may not stay healthy. They are a host of young unprovens and journeymen who would have to do some serious breaking out to unseat a player who is out of options.
Duncan deserves the nod if only because he has been with the Tribe for two years. Before coming to Cleveland for the 2010 season, Duncan spent three years with the Yankees, playing on one of the most prestigious teams in baseball from 2007-2009. He knocked seven jacks in 74 at bats for New York as a rookie in 2007.
Duncan very well may be one of those late bloomers. He didn’t break into baseball until he was 27 and was in his 30s before truly becoming productive. However, his experience and success at the major league level should give him the leg up in the competition for the final starting outfield spot. When the Indians play their first game of meaning April 5, Duncan will be in uniform. He should be on the field.
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com