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who'd a dunc it?

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chris duncan is at it again today; 1 for 3 with an rbi single. let's try to get a read on this guy: is he simply having one of those springs, or could he actually become a productive major-league hitter in the near soon?

let's begin with duncan's major-league equivalents, or MLEs. i referenced them in an earlier post about duncan; here's his full MLE line from 2005:

ab h 2b 3b hr bb so avg obp slg
439 105 18 2 15 55 118 .239 .324 .392

pretty tepid for a prospect in his age-24 season. duncan turns 25 in may, which makes him about a year younger than pujols and two years older than yadi molina; factor that in any time you start projecting great things for this hitter. because he got entangled in the low minors for so long, duncan isn't as young as he seems; he is running out of the upside that comes with true youth. if he's going to develop, he'd better do it quickly -- as in, this year.

so, what are the chances of that? here's what two projection systems think duncan could do with regular playing time in 2006:

ab h 2b 3b hr bb so avg obp slg
ZIPS 410 95 20 1 11 45 99 .232 .309 .366
PECOTA 400 100 20 1 14 43 98 .249 .325 .410

these are nearly identical; pecota forecasts three more homers and two more singles than zips, but those are virtually the only differences. yet they're significant -- about equal to a game in the standings. at duncan's level, that's the difference between a useful player and a useless one. looking five years out, pecota sees duncan as a 25 hr, 80 rbi regular with an .800 ops -- a much sunnier forecast than i would have guessed.

you look down at duncan's comps (on which PECOTA is based) and it becomes quickly obvious why the system likes him so much. his top three most comparable players are

  1. george boomer scott
  2. derrek lee
  3. nick johnson
three other pretty good players, all-stars -- roy sievers, tino martinez, and jody davis -- also make the list. so pecota projects duncan to come on like fully loaded big rig, which he kind of resembles in physical proportion -- slow to get into gear, slow to gather momentum, but gradually building up to highway speeds and delivering the goods.

i would never have believed that assessment until yesterday, when duncan took randy johnson deep over the right-centerfield wall. johnson simply does not give up homers to left-handers -- only 6 in the last three years. it's only spring training, i know; but that sonuvagun never gives anything away.

let's just say he's a legitimate sleeper. of course, we haven't talked about his glove yet . . . . some other time.

the game has apparently ended after 10 innings as a 2-2 tie. duncan went 1 for 3 with a walk, and the cardinals got just 4 hits (the others by bigbie spiezio and schumaker). spivey went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts; he's now whiffed 11 times in 32 spring at-bats. mulder had another very sharp outing, and the fringe bullpen candidates threw 4 strong innings.