Some team should give Shelley Duncan a chance

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Shelley Duncan would probably have several seasons in the big leagues under his belt had just about any other team drafted him in the second round back in 2001, but instead he’s wasted away in the Yankees’ minor-league system.
Duncan has accumulated 3,812 plate appearances spread over 905 games and nine seasons in the minors, including over 1,000 trips to the plate at both Double-A and Triple-A.
During that time in the minors he’s blasted 170 homers while making multiple All-Star teams, and this season he was named MVP of the International League after hitting .277/.370/.546 with 30 homers and 99 RBIs in 123 games.
Yet not only did Duncan turn 30 years old with a grand total of 68 games in the majors to show for it, the Yankees dropped him from their 40-man roster last week. Duncan has smartly decided that he’ll likely never get an extended shot in New York, so he’s opted for free agency rather than returning on a minor-league deal. It remains to be seen if any other teams view him as a big-league player, because his prime was wasted at Triple-A and he hardly has star potential at this point.
With that said, Duncan deserves a chance to stick in the majors and is perfectly capable of knocking around left-handed pitching as a productive platoon first baseman, corner outfielder, or designated hitter. At the very least he’d make for a nice bench bat after hitting .271/.368/.533 in four seasons at Triple-A. Baseball Think Factory projects him as a .252/.328/.460 hitter in the majors for 2010, which is a higher OPS than seven teams got from their first basemen and 18 teams got from their left fielders this season.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉