Shelley Duncan looked like he could be a legitimate power source when he came up with the New York Yankees in 2007, drilling seven home runs in 74 at-bats. However, Duncan never materialized into the power threat he was in Triple-A as he was exposed by Major League pitching. Now, after three years with the Cleveland Indians, the 33-year-old first baseman/outfielder is just trying to make the Tampa Bay Rays.
Duncan hit 11 home runs and scored 29 runs in each of his three years with the Indians, but he often struggled to make consistent contact, especially last season, when he hit just .203/.288/.388 with 59 strikeouts in 232 at bats. However, Duncan can still offer the Rays something they don’t have much of: power.
Joe Maddon likes to employ a variety of lineups and likes to have options on defense. The Rays’ addition of Kelly Johnson this off-season will allow Ben Zobrist to move to the outfield but still give Maddon the option of employing him at second base, or elsewhere, if needed. Duncan offers similar versatility, even if he is not the best option on defense in either the outfield or at first base.
At first base, the Rays currently have James Loney pegged in for first base. Loney is a great fielder who offers little power at the position. Adding Duncan to the mix gives the Rays some power at the position when needed.
Duncan isn’t a great hitter. He loves his fastballs, struggles with breaking pitches and always has, even in the minors. However, if he makes the Rays roster, he should get more pitches to hit in this lineup than he did with an Indians lineup that wasn’t as good as it could have been during his time there. The Rays lineup, while not as deep, is still a little better than the lineup was in Cleveland with Evan Longoria, Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and, eventually, Wil Meyers.
Duncan won’t be a game changer, but he can be a nice piece to Maddon’s arsenal and should be able to make the team out of spring training. He should finally be able to hit more than 11 home runs in a season as well while playing in the dome of Tropicana Field.