Duncan seemed cut out of a Jack Armstrong storybook. A Yankees fan growing up in Florham Park, N.J., standing 6-foot-3, 210 pounds with a left-handed swing tailor-made for a short right-field porch, Duncan had the Yankees seeing their next Graig Nettles when they took him with the 27th pick in the 2003 draft.
By the summer of '03, Duncan had accepted the Yankees' $1.25 million deal and turned down a scholarship to LSU. Two years later, he was outplaying future major league All-Stars.
Today, at 29, he is a volunteer baseball coach at Seton Hall University, where he is in his sophomore year as a political science major. He never took a swing in the big leagues.
If Duncan had made it, maybe he would be in the Bronx ready to take Alex Rodriguez's spot at third. Or perhaps in 2013, he could have slid over to first when Mark Teixeira missed nearly the entire season. Duncan might have provided the Yankees with the organizational depth they missed so much when injuries ravaged their 2013 season.
On the phone from South Orange, Duncan’s likable personality beams across the line. There were no catastrophic injuries or obvious reasons he didn’t make it past Triple-A; he points to his own “inconsistency,” not to anything the Yankees did wrong.
“I was afforded every opportunity to succeed,” Duncan said. “I got to work with some great hitting coaches, great fielding coaches. Guys that made a ton of sense. Guys who could articulate what they wanted to say. It was up to me to be able to play well enough. It is too bad that these coaches in the minor league level, the player development side, get a bad rap because they are doing everything they can. It is up to guys like me to get to the big leagues. I didn’t play well enough.”
In 2006, Duncan, just 21, had an .841 OPS in 57 games in his home state of New Jersey for Double-A Trenton. He was a step away from Yankee Stadium when he was promoted to the Triple-A level that same year. But he could never get over the hump. By 2010, he was no longer in the Yankees' system. Two years and three organizations later, his professional playing career was over.
“Everyone said it was a tremendous pick, and the right pick, such great ability, a left-handed bat in Yankee Stadium, the future would be awesome; but it just didn’t play out that way,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “In the end, it doesn’t matter when you’re drafted, it matters what you do and how you perform. So over time, he started getting left behind because his performance was holding him back.”
Duncan looked like a Yankee. He talked like a Yankee. But he never played for the Yankees. Now, he is using that signing-bonus money to go back to school and coach.
“I’m very grateful to be able to stay around the game and I’ve kind of fallen in love with coaching,” said Duncan, who is still a Yankees fan. “We’ll see where it takes me.”