Today, I'll be taking a look at Lexington's unassuming third sacker Matt Duffy, who has quietly contributed to the Legends and their second-half run at 1st place and a playoff spot.
Overview: The 23 year-old third baseman has been carrying on in quiet, relative obscurity for the nearly two years he's been in pro ball, but if it's one thing that gets my attention, it's low-round picks making some noise with their bats. Duffy certainly fits that description.
Batting: At 6'3", 227, Duffy has the physical presence you'd like to see in a power-hitting corner infielder. His approach to this point, however, has been more geared toward making consistent contact and popping doubles with regularity. Duffy takes a wide, slightly open stance, starts with his hands set high and has a bit of a bat twirl that seems to be more pronounced in late-inning pressure situations (at least based on what I've seen, personally). He's not afraid to take a big cut, but his quick hands allow him to do so without sacrificing much in the way of bat control. He has a high uppercut in his swing path which has thus far produced around league-average HR totals, but power is not really his game anyway. Duffy goes to the opposite field on a regular basis, and shows strong gap-to-gap doubles power. Think Mark Grace or Hal Morris, and somewhere in between you'll probably find Duffy's potential. That's certainly not a bad thing, either. He makes hard contact frequently, turning on inside fastballs and taking the outside pitch to right-center. I see no glaring negatives in his hitting mechanics, except that he could stand to shorten up a bit in situations with RISP (like most young players, right?).
Fielding: I enjoy seeing Duffman in the field even more than I like watching him bat. This is where his personality really seems to shine through. He sets very low when he's at the ready, tapping his glove on the ground once or twice before the pitch is delivered. He's definitely a little stronger going to his glove side, but he'll snag a grounder headed for left field, plant and throw, and beat some runners by two steps at least. I've seen him make off-balance throws that were right on target a number of times. Those are his strengths. The weakness here lies to his right, as it seems more of his errors occur there. He does have strong fundamentals and he moves well for his size (definitely), but he is by no means fast. His quick reflexes and solid footwork get him in front of at least a few hard-hit balls that the average third baseman might miss. He throws from a ¾ arm slot but gets in trouble if he has to rush and drops his slot. As a fielder, I see him more as a first baseman with an above-average glove, with occasional starts at the hot corner.
Baserunning: As I stated before, Duffy runs well for his size. He'll even steal the occasional base for you, but this is more from a combination of smart baserunning, high-percentage chances and a defense caught unaware. He's good enough to reach double-digits in steals, but consider those a bonus. Duffy takes an average lead, advances when he should and won't run into a lot of bad outs. He has a clue, out there. He could be perhaps a bit better conditioned (sorry, Matt; no offense), but I believe he'll make that effort and present to Spring Training next year in even better shape. He's probably never going to score a ton of runs, unless he bats ahead of some power bats. Fortunately, he hits like a potential #3, right now. Hitting behind Deshields and LF Jordan Scott hasn't hurt him any, especially with a clubber like 1B Zach Johnson behind him.
Summary: This kid came to play. He seems to go about things without any fanfare and I can't remember the last time I heard him speak when exiting the clubhouse post-game. But he does the important things well, and while there is definite room for improvement (could stand to cut down on errors, relax a bit more with RISP), Duffy could make those adjustments. Problem is, while this is only his second year in pro ball, he turned 23 before the season even started and so does not have time on his side. He will need to be promoted before year's end or start 2012 in either High-A or AA to have a chance at making The Show. While there are plenty of minor leaguers who made it all the way up who posted numbers inferior to Duffy's, there are also a great number of players who were similar or even better than him at the plate who never got close. If he works hard in the off-season, hits the gym and comes out swinging in 2013, I see him assigned to High-A Lancaster at least (possibly AA Corpus Christi) if he doesn't get promoted before this year is over.