Duncan holding his own this spring

Duncan holding his own at Major League camp

TAMPA, Fla. -- Being the Yankees' top prospect isn't always a comfortable position to be in, as several of the club's blue-chip players have found themselves shipped away in a deal for a more established name.

Eric Duncan has been considered the top hitting prospect in New York's organization for a couple of years now, but he's not spending much time worrying about his future. In his mind, as long as he works hard and continues to improve, things will take care of themselves.

"After the first couple of years, I've learned not to look toward the future at all," Duncan said. "Whatever comes my way, it is what it is. I just spent the offseason getting ready for the spring, no matter where I would be. This is just a plus, so I'll take from it what I can."

For Duncan, this spring is an opportunity to rub elbows with some of the top players in the game. That's because the 21-year-old is in big-league camp for the first time in his career, giving him a chance to observe players such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi up close.

"I'm usually on Field 2 and they're on Field 1, but every once in a while, I'll see them in the cage," Duncan said. "I try to pick their brains, try to get a little information here or there on what they're thinking at the plate."

Recently, Duncan found himself in the batting cage with A-Rod, the reigning American League MVP -- and the player whose presence in pinstripes has pushed the club to move Duncan from third base to first base.

Duncan, who was nine years old when Rodriguez made his Major League debut, asked A-Rod about his approach at the plate, trying to pick up any tips he could.

"Not a lot of people have that opportunity, so it's a great chance that we all have here," Duncan said. "You want to see how these guys handle themselves, both on and off the field. They're where you want to be and they've had a lot of success there."

"I like what I've seen," said Rodriguez, who has hit with Duncan at the Yankees' Minor League complex several times. "He's hungry to keep learning. This is a big year for him. He's got all the tools necessary to be very successful."

Rodriguez seemed most impressed with Duncan's ability to blend in among a group of established superstars. Most kids in camp simply stay out of the veterans' way, but Duncan has taken it upon himself to take advantage of his unique opportunity.

"He's not in awe of anything or anyone," Rodriguez said. "He's very respectful, but he's been around us for a while now. He feels comfortable, and that's half the battle of being successful here -- knowing these are your peers, and if you can hang with them in a social setting, the rest of it follows naturally."

For Duncan, a spring with the Major Leaguers comes with another perk, as he will get some playing time in front of manager Joe Torre and the team's coaching staff.

"A lot of coaches here don't usually get to see us play at the Minor League camp," Duncan said. "It's a great opportunity for us to let them see what we can do."

Torre spoke with Duncan last week, and the manager came away from the conversation with nothing but good things to say about the youngster.

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"We think very highly of him," Torre said. "I think he's appreciative of being here. He should leave here with something good."

Duncan's hitting ability doesn't appear to be a question, especially after he tore up the Arizona Fall League, capturing MVP honors this offseason.

"I was working on some things the whole year in Double-A, and mentally, it all just clicked for me in Arizona," Duncan said. "I started well and kept rolling. Wherever I go, I just have to keep a straight head, and try to be where I was physically. I'm trying to take the same mindset I had in Arizona with me into the season."

For Duncan, the biggest challenge now comes in the field, where the third baseman is making the transition to first base.

"It's definitely something more on my plate -- some extra work and other new things," Duncan said. "It's a great opportunity to add another position to what you do. It makes you more multi-faceted, which can only help your value."

Many former first-rounders would be hesitant about taking on a new position, but Duncan has embraced the move with open arms. Then again, when A-Rod is blocking your path to the Majors, it's a good idea to entertain other options.

"Alex Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer, one of the best to ever play. You need to be realistic about the situation," Duncan said. "But there are a lot of great first basemen in this system, not just at the Major League level, so I'm working hard every day to establish myself at the position."

"He's a third baseman playing first, but he's very upbeat about everything," Torre said. "I told him, 'The only thing you should concern yourself with is getting better.' The fact that he can play more spots makes him more valuable. He was very comfortable."

Duncan hasn't been told where he'll start the season, though Triple-A Columbus appears to be his likely destination. Wherever it is, he knows that he can only control his own game, and the rest will fall into place one way or another.

"In this organization, you have to just worry about what you're doing," Duncan said. "The future will take care of itself."

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.