MWL notes: Astros' Duncan won't back down

River Bandits right-hander holding his own after going undrafted

Tanner Duncan, who saw time with Class Advanced Buies Creek this year, has a 2.16 ERA in 18 games for Quad Cities. (Joe Dwyer)

By Curt Rallo / Special to | August 2, 2018 10:00 AM

Right-hander Tanner Duncan didn't let getting cut by the East Carolina University baseball team deter him from pursuing his dream of playing professional baseball.

He didn't let getting cut during a second season trying out for the East Carolina baseball team stop him, either.

And, when he was cut by East Carolina for the third year in a row, it still didn't stop Duncan.

Duncan, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, yearned to keep pitching. He joined a club team at East Carolina and his senior year ended up pitching that team to the National Club Baseball Association World Series championship. He fired 10 shutout innings against Central Florida in the title game.

Duncan took his low-90s fastball to a tryout camp in Richmond, Virginia. It was powerful and consistent enough to impress Astros scout Tim Bittner.

Signed as an undrafted free agent, Duncan has emerged as a solid prospect. He had a 1-2 record with a 2.13 ERA in 11 Rookie-level Gulf Coast League games last season, and he's shined for the Class A Quad Cities River Bandits this season. Working out of the bullpen, he's 2-3 with a 2.16 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP in 18 appearances while holding Midwest League batters to a .099 average.

"Tanner has a very playable fastball, especially for the velocity that it has," Quad Cities pitching coach Graham Johnson said. "He locates it well. He knows how to use it. Obviously, he's an extremely hard worker, and his slider has come a long way in the last month. He also has a very usable changeup and a very usable curveball to go along with those two pitches."

Despite Duncan's lack of college baseball experience, his pitching coach doesn't see him as a risky signing for Houston.

"When our guys saw him, he had a low-90s arm," Johnson said. "Now, is it the usual path to get to pro ball, the way he did it? Absolutely not, but he's a resilient guy.

MiLB include

"He's not taking a backseat to anybody because of the path he took. He's done a good job of not feeling overmatched when he goes up against hitters from the big schools who are highly touted. We have some really talented guys in our organization, and he fits right in the mix with them."

Duncan said that getting cut three times never discouraged him. He knew he faced a tough challenge making the East Carolina squad.

"You kind of know what to expect when you try out," he said. "College baseball, they have obligations. They have to keep people who have scholarships. I always thought that I was capable of performing at a level higher than what I was.

"I tried not to let it affect me when I got cut. I continued to work hard. I just tried to get better as much as I could."

The native of Tabor City, North Carolina, adapted quickly to professional baseball.

"Once I got out there, I experienced some success and that calmed my nerves," he said. "I saw that this was something I could do.

"The first full season is tough. You're playing every day. You're dealing with travel. I'm just trying to stay in a good routine as far as throwing, lifting and taking care of my body. I think that's allowed me to have success. I've learned a lot this year. I'm looking forward to the offseason and applying the knowledge about pitching that the Astros have taught me to the things I need to work on.

"I come from a background where I never really had much instruction, but the Astros have really taught me a lot."

In brief

Clemens in town: Roger Clemens, who owns a record seven Cy Young Awards, pitched batting practice for the West Michigan Whitecaps last week. His son Kody, a second baseman for West Michigan, was drafted in the third round by the Tigers after a stellar career at the University of Texas. He is hitting .290 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 28 games in the Midwest League.

Lights out, part II: The Burlington Bees had a second power outage situation this season at Community Field. A game last Thursday against Quad Cities was suspended until Friday, resumed in the bottom of the 10th inning and only took 28 minutes to wrap up. Quad Cities scored its go-ahead run in the 11th inning, when Colton Shaver scampered home on a wild pitch for an 8-7 win. Earlier in July, Lansing rallied from a 7-2 deficit to tie the score at 7-7 in the ninth inning at Community Field, but the bottom of the ninth inning was never played due to a storm and power outage. The score reverted to 7-2, and the Bees won the game. The River Bandits have been involved in two power-outage games. A game at Beloit was suspended due to a power outage earlier in July and will be made up later in the season.

Davies rehab: Zach Davies, a starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, enjoyed a strong rehab appearance with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Davies, who was sidelined with lower back pain, pitched on Friday at Peoria, working 2 1/3 perfect innings and striking out four.

Curt Rallo is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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