Showcase : : Story
Monday, August 11, 2014

Sneaking a peek at the 'next level'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

SAN DIEGO – Thanks to a couple of trips to playing fields located in the suburbs north of the Atlanta Metropolitan area in Georgia to compete at the 2013 and 2014 PG WWBA 16u National Championship, 2016 Lakeside, Calif., right-hander Tristan Duncan has learned to appreciate the way the game is played from coast-to-coast.

On Monday, Duncan found himself at Fowler Park on the campus of the University of San Diego, getting another look at competition from ocean-to-ocean as one of 93 prospects from the classes of 2016 (87) and 2017 (six) at the Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games.

The prospects here for the two-day showcase came from 24 states –including six on the Atlantic Coast – and Puerto Rico. Duncan, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior at El Capitan High School in Lakeside, enjoys interacting with the players from states outside of California while simultaneously sizing up their games.

“They might play it a little bit differently but they play it at the same level,” Duncan said before going out to throw three innings for California Black. “They play as hard as we do and I really like to see what I’m going to be facing at the next level. I love that (high-level baseball is) everywhere and you can go to pretty much any state you want to play baseball.”

In this case, Perfect Game brought high-level baseball not only to Duncan’s home state, but his home county. Lakeside is located in San Diego County, a little over 20 miles east of the USD campus. Duncan attended the Perfect Game All-American Classic at the Padres’ Petco Park Sunday night and walked away impressed.

“I enjoyed that last night and it makes me want to be there (next year),” he said.

That is a dream all of the prospects in attendance at the Underclass A-A Games hopes comes to fruition. Duncan has been sizing up this event for the last couple of years and made the decision that he wanted to be a part of it, mostly to get a look at the people who one day – at that elusive “next level” – might be his teammates or his adversaries.

 “I think it’s the capacity of the event that brings me out here,” he said. “I love to come out here and get up against the competition; I love to come out here and be seen. I love to come out here and see my competitors and who I’m going against, and who I’m going to be going against in college and at the next level.”

Tristan Duncan was at Fowler Park with his dad, Loren Duncan, and the father made it clear that the decision as to whether or not to attend an elite PG event to which Tristan is invited is made by Tristan. To this point, only weeks before Tristan begins his junior year in high school, he has been pleased with the decisions he’s made and the progress his game has shown.

“I look forward to doing so much more,” Tristan said, adding that he has worked closely with the legendary Butch Smith at Big Fly Athletics in Carlsbad, Calif., since he was 9 years old. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without him.”

“Tristan does everything pretty much on his own,” Loren said Monday. “We try to make sure that he has the best resources available but we don’t push him. He goes to his workout coach and he goes to Coach Butch. Like (Sunday) morning, he was up at 7 in the morning on his own, drove an hour to see Coach Butch to do a workout because that’s what he wants to do.

“He wants to play (a high) level and if any of my children want to put that kind of effort forth we’re all 100-percent behind them.”

This is the fifth Perfect Game event Duncan has attended in a little more than a year, and his strongest showing to date came earlier this year at the Perfect Game Sunshine West Showcase in Chula Vista, Calif.

He earned inclusion on both the Top Prospect List and Top Prospect Team at that event after flashing a 90 miles-per-hour fastball and a 79 mph slider. He jumped up to No. 82 in the class of 2016 national rankings, and is ranked as California’s No. 11 overall prospect and No. 3 right-handed pitcher.

The Perfect Game scouting report from that event noted that Duncan has “a very quick arm” and shows “good balance to delivery, uses lower half well to create torque in delivery and generate velocity with lower half.” It concludes by calling Duncan a “very interesting pitching prospect.”

Duncan noted that when he gets out of the field with other top prospects there is a tendency for everyone to feed off each other’s energy.

 “When you’re out there and you see the guy next to you make a great play then we want to make a great play, too, and look good in front of everybody,” he said. “These are the best kids from around the country in my same grade and you’re not going to get anything any better than this, not at my age.

“I’m just going to try to keep focused and do what I do,” he said before adding that the more he gets out in front of the scouts the more he enjoys it. “That gives me a little bit of a thrill ride,” he said with a smile.

Loren Duncan is in the business of racing ATVs and motorcycles and noted that Tristan did some riding when he was younger but decided to concentrate on baseball. Loren and his wife, Tammy, are 100 percent behind his efforts, which has led to a commitment to the University of Oregon.

“Anybody that is a parent, when their kid can do that special thing on a piano or give that speech, or with him it’s pitching – it’s priceless,” Loren said. “I’ve dealt with world champions and some of the best racers in the world in my field, but nothing matches the feeling of watching your child reach the goal that he’s been working for.”

Loren remembered driving Tristan home from a baseball practice when he was 9 or 10 years old and Tristan announced that he wanted to play baseball at Oregon. The offer came a few years after the declaration and Loren described the entire situation as a good lesson for everyone – even himself.

“You put in the hours and do the work and something good can happen,” Loren said. “He’s got quite a little support group with my wife (Tammy) and Coach Butch and his high school coaches and there’s just a whole group of people. You cannot get here even remotely by yourself.

“You’ve got have a trainer, you’ve got have people to teach you to act on the field and how to act off the field, and he’s got quite a support group that have put a lot of hours in,” he continued. “They get as much enjoyment out of his success as me and my wife do and we all want to see how far he can take it.”

Tristan Duncan is one of three prospects here that have committed to the Oregon Ducks’ program – Spencer Steer from Long Beach, Calif., and Kenyon Yovan from Beaverton, Ore., are the others – and Duncan said he made his decision based on the belief that the Ducks have an “incredible chance” of winning the College World Series.

He also thinks the Ducks’ coaching staff, led by head coach George Horton, will give him an even greater chance of reaching the “next level.”

His father, Loren, is of the belief that events that the PG Underclass All-American Games also go a long way toward reaching any level that lies beyond high school baseball.

 “We’ve been in the travel sports with my daughters and with (Tristan) now for a long time and Perfect Game does the best job I’ve ever seen of running tournaments and showcases and giving back to the teams,” Loren said. “They make a top-notch, first-class effort and I couldn’t be more impressed with everything they do.”

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