The managers and coaches of the AFL, by a large majority, decided Yankees prospect Eric Duncan was the best of the bunch. As a result, Duncan was in Dallas on Tuesday to receive the league's MVP Award.
Duncan, who turned 21 on Wednesday, hit .362 with eight homers and 27 RBIs while playing for the Grand Canyon Rafters. He led the league with a .734 slugging percentage, finished seventh with a .423 on-base percentage and eighth in batting average. He was listed as the top choice for the award by 87 percent of the managers and coaches, ahead of some pretty other impressive performers.
"It feels great. I was just going out there and having a good time, putting up some good numbers," Duncan said. "You've got Brandon Wood, he hit like 37 homers or whatever he got. Howie Kendrick, I don't think I ever saw that kid get out. To be able to play with those guys and perform at their level was pretty special."
It was particularly so after a regular season with Double-A Trenton that was, at least by statistical measures, a disappointment for the Yankees' 2003 first-round pick. Duncan hit .235 with the Thunder, with 19 homers, 61 RBIs and 136 strikeouts. With a maturity that belies his years, Duncan has already turned the page on the season.
"The Yankees wouldn't have put me up there if they didn't think I could handle it," Duncan said. "It was one of those things, I was doing a lot with my game, I changed some things. Some of them worked out, some of them didn't. I learned a lot more by having that failure than I would've by having success.
"I've taught myself in this game you have to have a short memory. I've pretty much put that behind me. I'll take the positives, take what I've learned, the good things from that season and applied them during the Fall League and (will apply) them in the coming season."
Where he'll play in 2006, both level and position, is still up in the air. The official move across the diamond, from third to first, began in Arizona. After spending a lot of time last spring taking ground balls at first, Duncan saw his first game action there in Arizona, playing seven games at what will be his home once he reaches New York.
"It was a lot different than what I thought (it would be)," Duncan said. "There are a lot more things with footwork you need to work on. You have to be in the game over there a lot more than you would at other positions because you're involved in a lot more plays. It was a lot of fun. Down the line, it's something I look forward to."
It's also unclear at what level he'll be continuing that transition. After the end of the regular season, it wouldn't have been too big of a surprise if Duncan was sent back to Trenton to start the season. He'll play the year at just 21 years of age, so building some more confidence at the same level certainly wouldn't have stunted his development.
Now, however, after his superb AFL campaign, the Yankees might be more willing to push him up to Triple-A Columbus. Wherever he is, Duncan simply wants to build on what he accomplished in the AFL.
"I try not to look too far in the future," Duncan said. "The Yankees really don't talk about it with me so much. I try not to think about that stuff. I'm just trying to work on the things I need to do to be successful, no matter where I'm at, Double-A or Triple-A."
Right now, though, he's only concerned about birthday plans. Duncan returned home Tuesday night to be with friends and family, then will turn his sights to preparing for whatever lies ahead on the field.
"I'm going to have a small celebration with some buddies," Duncan said. "Other than that, I started working out about a week ago, getting back in it and getting ready for Spring Training."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.