Yesterday the Houston Astros promoted infielder Matt Duffy to the major league roster. This is not to be confused with the San Francisco Giants third baseman with the same name, although they do have a few things in common. Both were relatively unheralded college draftees who exceeded expectations in the minors and emerged as genuine prospects. Can the Astros version succeed like the Giants version has?
Houston's Matt Duffy was drafted in the 20th round in 2011 from the University of Tennessee. He began his college career with the University of Vermont in 2008 but transferred to the Volunteers in 2010. He performed well at both schools, hitting a combined .326/.417/.522 over his four-year NCAA tenure. He lasted until the 20th round because his physical tools were considered quite marginal and most scouts saw him as an organization roster-filler type.
Duffy kept hitting though: .280/.337/.447 in Low-A in '12, then .323/.397/.553 in High-A in 2013. He reached the high minors in 2014 and continued to hit, combining for a .288/.336/.451 mark between Double-A and Triple-A. And yes, he kept hitting in 2015, batting .294/.366/.484 with 20 homers, 104 RBI, and a 48/90 BB/K in 490 at-bats for Triple-A Fresno. This was enough to earn him the Pacific Coast League MVP award.
OK, so the numbers are pretty sharp. He's played primarily in pro-hitting environments and his production in context has been very good rather than excellent, his wRC+ marks generally in the 120-130 range. But he's maintained that production at every level and there's nothing left to prove down in the minors.
Duffy is 6-3, 215 pounds, a right-handed hitter, age 26. With his body type and birthday he doesn't have physical projection and his tools are maxed out, but he makes the most of them. He has pull power but is willing to go the other way when necessary. Although not an especially patient hitter, he makes contact readily. I've been able to see him in the Texas League and the PCL over the last couple of years and he's shown some solid bat speed, able to catch up with good velocity. We'll have to see if that holds true in the majors.
Defensively his range and arm strength are adequate at third base. He's no gold glove by any means but he's not bad over there, certainly playable if he hits enough. He also has experience at first base but frankly looks more comfortable at third. Unfortunately he doesn't have enough range to play up the middle and has no experience in the outfield.
At age 26 Duffy isn't likely to improve beyond what he is, but his present skills seem good enough for him to have a future as a role player with a decent power bat and the ability to handle the infield corners. That's a nice thing to find in the fifth round, let alone the 20th.