Frank Duncan Was A Victim Of Circumstance

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a nice pitcher in Frank Duncan, but he fell victim to circumstance.

Today’s trade by the Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire UT Phil Gosselin in exchange for RHP prospect Frank Duncan caught many by surprise.

It should not have.

Duncan was a nice depth option at Triple-A. There is no doubt about that. Duncan certainly checked off a lot of boxes that you want to see in that type of player. He made a smooth transition to Double-A and repeated that transition to Indianapolis after just 26.2 innings in Altoona. In 112 Triple-A innings, Duncan compiled a 3.06 FIP, struck out 7.39 per nine, kept the ball in the park and stranded runners at a nice rate.

Then why did the Pirates feel so comfortable in letting him go?

No Room At the Inn

The simple answer is that they did not have a spot for him. Yes, he was a depth option as mentioned, but even in that role he is the low man on the totem pole. One or more of Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Drew Hutchison and Tyler Glasnow will presumably also head back to Indianapolis to serve in that depth role. While Duncan has performed admirably, he is not yet in the same tier as those four – especially with Glasnow’s inclusion in that group.

Additionally, we can’t forget Nick Kingham, who – contingent upon his continued good health – will be given every opportunity to jump to the head of the line in terms of pitchers on the cusp of the major leagues.

If he were to glance over his shoulder, Duncan would then see an intriguing group of young talent behind him. Clay Holmes stands out as a prospect primed for a jump up to Triple-A. He is joined by fellow Pirates Top 30 prospects Tyler Eppler and Edgar Santana in that group. Mitch Keller looms in the background. With his meteoric rise, we cannot rule out his landing in Indianapolis at some point this year.

In this way, Duncan finds himself stuck between two waves of pitching depth. Not as talented as Glasnow or Kingham, but more able at this point than Eppler or Santana, Duncan found himself on an uncertain path.

More Pressing Needs

Getting UT Phil Gosselin in return for Duncan shows that the Pittsburgh Pirates may be thinking ahead.

First, we must acknowledge that this move may have been predicated on the club hedging its bets against a suspension for Jung Ho Kang. MLB has thus far been very light-handed in regards to Kang’s most recent DUI arrest, but with a trial date in Korea now set, MLB will play its hand sooner rather than later.

The Pirates may also feel a complete lack of faith in Alen Hanson, who has failed to impress at this point. Gosselin seems to be a better player in most regards than Hanson, save for speed. Gosselin has played all infield slots as well as each corner outfield spot. Though he has worked to gain some versatility, he can’t match Gosselin’s.

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Gosselin also slugged 12 doubles in 240 plate appearances in 2016, showing more ability to drive the ball than we may have seen from Hanson to this point.

Lastly, we cannot ignore the possibility – however small – that this move may be intertwined with some other plans Neal Huntington has in store.

But, back to Duncan for a moment. He’ll get a fairer shake at getting to the majors in Arizona. The Pittsburgh Pirates may end up regretting this move. Duncan’s ceiling is that of a capable ‘back of the rotation’ major league starter and, as we’ve seen in recent seasons, sometimes a team needs such a hurler more than they care to.

But from today’s vantage point, this move cleared a bit of a logjam and brought in a useful player. It may take the entirety of Spring Training to decide which team will be considered the “winner” of his trade, but at this moment the Pirates seem to be just that.


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