While rookie first baseman Tyler White is drawing attention in Houston, the Astros have another unheralded-but-interesting rookie bat to watch in third baseman Matt Duffy. No, not THAT Matt Duffy.
How can we tell these guys apart, and can Astros Duffy follow in the footsteps of Giants Duffy?
From the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:
Matt E. Duffy, 3B, Houston Astros
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-3 WT: 230 DOB: February 6, 1989
The Giants had great luck in 2015 with an under-rated prospect named Matt Duffy. For 2016 the Astros have their own Matt Duffy, though this version is rather different than the Giants version. A 20th round pick in 2011 from the University of Tennessee, Houston Duffy is a power/pull hitter who has steadily improved his eye for the strike zone. I don’t think he hits .294 in the majors but he could hit .254 or .264 with enough power to be valuable. He has a strong arm at third but his range and reliability are just marginal. He isn’t bad at first base but unfortunately he isn’t mobile enough to play up the middle and has virtually no outfield experience. I think his bat is genuine but I don’t know how to fit him in the lineup. Grade C+.
Astros Duffy got 49 at-bats this spring, hitting .163/.268/.429 with four doubles, three homers, six walks, and 17 strikeouts. He held his roster spot due to the power production and walks, the Astros willing to ignore the low batting average due to the vagaries of sample size.
The general report on Duffy hasn't changed: he's a pull/power hitter and a good-enough defender at third base who can also manage first. The sabermetric systems aren't wild about him: Steamer .251/.302/.392; ZiPS .242/.297/.388; PECOTA .248/.298/.409.
I think the computers are right about Duffy's batting average; he's a .250ish hitter and his OBP would hover around .300. I think they under-sell his power a little, but admittedly I may be biased because he hit a home run every time I saw him play last year. Let's say he's a .250/.300/.440 hitter.
Is that enough to hold a big league job? In the old days when teams didn't have giant pitching staffs and short benches, someone like Duffy could make a living for several years as an everyday late-inning pinch-hitter and platoon bat, but given his defensive limitations and playing in a DH league, that's tougher to do nowadays. He'll need a fast start and will have to take full advantage of any playing time he gets.
All told, Duffy will probably bounce around between Triple-A and the majors the next few years. If he gets bored with that, he'd likely be a very good player in Japan and would be a superstar in Mexico. Even those fates would be a fine outcome for a guy who was a 20th round pick.