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Hitting top form

After a slow start, Eric Duncan has emerged in the second half of the season as one of the Yankees’ top offensive performers. He is second on the team with 10 home runs.

Pete g. wilcox/the times leader

Eric Duncan has made steady progress at first base. It’s not his natural position, but it might be where the Yankees’ first-round draft pick of 2003 is called on to play in the major leagues.

Don Carey/the times leader

MOOSIC—The name Duncan is synonymous with success for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Shelley Duncan’s hot bat carried the team’s offense during the first half of the season. The slugger smacked 25 home runs and had 90 RBI before being called up to New York after the All-Star break.

Meanwhile, Eric Duncan (no relation) struggled mightily at the plate, with his average hovering around .200 early on.

However, since Shelley’s departure, Eric Duncan has helped fill the void. Eric has not only been one of the Yankees’ most productive hitters in the second half of the season, he’s starting to live up to his reputation as New York’s No. 1 hitting prospect.

He is second on the team with 10 home runs, and is one of the Yankees’ most dependable clutch hitters. And he’s also improved his defensive skill at first base. That was never more evident than last Tuesday night, when Duncan made a game-saving play by knocking down a wicked line drive with two runners on base.

Duncan, 22, always has kept a positive approach, even when things weren’t going his way.

“The first half of the season I always felt good,” he said. “I’m always confident that I’m going to have a good game. I’ve never felt overmatched.”

Duncan admits that his first year in Triple-A has turned out to be a learning experience.

“I’ve learned a lot as far as pitchers are concerned and what it takes to be successful. You have to have a game plan that will lead to success.”

He has developed a batting stance that has resulted in higher productivity.

“I stand tall, which allows me to stay on top of the ball,” said Duncan, a native of Florham Park, N.J., who was New York’s first-round draft pick out of high school in 2003. “I also developed a shorter swing.”

Duncan, who has 69 career minor league home runs, has made steady progress at first base. It’s not his natural position, but it might be where he’s called on to play in the big leagues. He has become especially adept at scooping up low throws.

“I broke in as a third baseman,” he said. “The move to first has required some extra work. It’s a great opportunity to add another position to what you do. It makes you more multi-faceted.”

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitting coach Butch Wynegar has high expectations for Duncan, because of his age, ability and work ethic.

“I’m glad to see Eric making an improvement during the second half of the season,” Wynegar said. “At 22, he’s still young. “He’ll probably start here again next season, but I definitely like what I’m seeing from him.”

Right now, Duncan is still going through the maturation process, Wynegar added.

“He’s a great worker and possesses great makeup. He needs to keep his body out of the swing, hit with has hands and avoid overswinging.”

Duncan’s best season was 2005, when he hit 19 home runs and 61 RBI at Double-A Trenton. Now, he’s looking forward to a possible playoff appearance by the Yankees, who lead the North Division of the International League.

“Our (starting) pitchers and the bullpen have been doing the job all year,” said Duncan. “We’ve gotten some timely hitting, and we have great chemistry in the clubhouse.”

Duncan is hungry to win a championship.

“The goal for all of us is to get to the big leagues, but you play to win and you do what’s needed to make that happen.”

A closer look

Eric Duncan

Position: First base

Age: 22

Resides: Florham Park, N.J.

Height: 6-3

Weight: 195

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

Marital status: Single

Of note: Duncan was New York’s first-round draft pick in 2003. Last year, he was named the Yankees “Best Power Hitter” by Baseball America.

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