The San Francisco Giants promoted infielder Matt Duffy to the major league roster Friday night. He was having an excellent year at Richmond in the Double-A Eastern League, hitting .332/.398/.444 with 24 doubles, 42 walks, 66 strikeouts in 367 at-bats, plus 20 steals in 24 attempts. Duffy was not a hot prospect pre-season but he was outstanding for the Flying Squirrels and now has a big league opportunity. So who is this guy?
Duffy was an 18th round pick in 2012 out of Long Beach State University. Although he started regularly in college, he did not hit very well: he ran up a .253/.305/.289 line in 501 college at-bats over three seasons, with zero home runs, 16 doubles, and one triple. He stayed in the lineup due to his defense and ability to play little ball, qualities that scouts respected enough so as to put him on draft lists despite the lack of offense. LBS also plays in a very tough hitting environment, something that gets factored in evaluations more readily than it did in years past.
Duffy didn't do much better after being drafted, hitting .247/.361/.286 in 182 at-bats in the Northwest League after signing. 2013 was much different however: he hit .307/.405/.418 in with a 45/41 BB/K in 287 at-bats for Low-A Augusta, then .292/.349/.509 in 106 at-bats for High-A San Jose. And as noted above, he's hitting the snot out of the ball this year.
What's going on here?
Even when he was struggling with the bat in college and the low minors, Duffy showed good command of the strike zone, making contact readily, avoiding excessive strikeouts and drawing a decent number of walks. The refined hitting approach was always there in other words; he just need to get stronger. There are reports of a small swing tweak last year combining with some physical maturity to help him drive the ball more readily. He uses his speed well on the bases and can still do the little ball stuff like bunt and hit-and-run. Although his physical tools fit best at second base, he's competent at shortstop, reliable on routine plays, active and alert.
In my book this year, I wrote that Duffy would "make a good utility infielder. . .but there's some chance he can go David Eckstein on us and have a long career." I still see it that way. There are parallels.
Eckstein was a 19th round pick (1997) from a top college program (Florida) who didn't have great tools but was an effective contact hitter in the minors, avoiding strikeouts while drawing walks. He leveraged his skills and instincts into a 10-year career and several years as a regular. Duffy actually has some advantages over Eckstein at the same stage of their careers: he's five inches taller, has more pop in his bat, and is reaching the big leagues a year sooner on the age curve than Eckstein did.
That doesn't mean Duffy is a guaranteed success, but finding any value in the 18th round is a win for your scouting department.
Never waste a draft pick.
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