The St. Louis Cardinals have not lacked power in their lineup for a long time now. That role has been filled by the likes of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds (the so-called MV3) in recent seasons. In 2005, the Cardinals' September call-ups featured a young, powerful (but raw) outfielder – the son of Dave Duncan.
In the final game of the season – and the final game at the old Busch Stadium – Chris Duncan hit the go-ahead and eventual game-winning home run. This was a brief showing of what he was capable of, and when 2006 arrived, Duncan once again had a chance to show his amazing, untapped power. Fans in '05 noticed Duncan's extreme power, noting when he hit home runs he often slipped from swinging so hard. 2006 brought less slipping – but more home runs.
Duncan's '06 season was one to remember, even though it only consisted of 90 games and 280 at-bats. When he was at the plate, he was able to come through quite a bit of the time. For a Major League rookie whom many thought was only playing because his father was on the coaching staff, Duncan batted .293 with 22 home runs and 43 RBIs.
Those stats are impressive, considering Duncan still had less than a full season of having faced Major League pitching under his belt. Duncan's power was evident at a hefty rate, and he currently has more home runs per at-bat than any current MLB player. Comparisons with players such as Adam Dunn came quickly for Duncan, but the 6-foot-5, 210 pound left-handed batter has already established a comparable OBP with a lower strikeout rate.
This wasn't evident at the beginning of the 2006 season, but by the time the playoffs came, Duncan’s ability to see the plate and not swing at everything coming his way helped his cause greatly. Of course, 69 strikeouts in only 280 at-bats is not something to brag about – but Duncan's great progress at the plate (thanks to the mentoring of Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds) is definitely something to talk about.
Chris Duncan can put up 22 home runs in only 90 games – so the question that remains is what can he do over a full season? Of course, before he can play a full season, he needs to correct all his mistakes and work on all his weak areas.
One major concern for Duncan was his erratic defense in the outfield – including two horrid mistakes in the World Series. The clinching Game Five was at hand, and Duncan misplayed two balls, one called an error and the other ruled a hit. The error was followed by a two-run home run off the bat of Detroit first baseman Sean Casey, but St. Louis still won the game and the championship. Duncan knew his defense needed work, and he reportedly has done a ton of work over the off-season and already during Spring Training to make sure he does not make those mistakes again.
Duncan – a first baseman by training – had all the power and talent to be an everyday Major League player at first base, except that a man by the name of Albert Pujols was blocking his path to success in this organization.
Luckily, the Cardinals' management took notice of his play and found a way to work around it by moving the tall 25-year old to the outfield. His work ethic is strong and steady, and because of this, Chris Duncan will be the Cardinals' regular left fielder in 2007.
It's all but impossible to keep him away from the game with his play in '06, and the possibilities of what he can do over 150-160 games are considerable. Duncan has the advantage of facing MLB pitching and already winning a World Series, and he has the raw potential to become a middle-of-the-order threat on a daily basis. All of these together combined with his work ethic and improving defense will make Chris Duncan a force for the St. Louis Cardinals for some time to come.
Preston Wilson should be the primary backup for Duncan in the upcoming season. He provides steady defense and a bit of pop in his bat, as well. He is a key guy in the clubhouse and the intangibles that come with his personality make just as big a difference as his play.
Left field should be a plus for the Cardinals in '07, as both Duncan and Wilson can be big-time contributors to the team. Duncan's upside beats out Wilson's veteran status, but expect a big year from them both – but especially from Duncan, who will finally get his full bevy of at-bats.
Overall Position Grade: B-
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