What do Buster Posey, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and Rickie Weeks all have in common? They're all Golden Spikes Award winners. The award, given by USA Baseball and sponsored by Major League Baseball, is awarded every year to the top amateur baseball player in the country, who "best exhibits exceptional on-field ability and exemplary sportsmanship."
To make it to the Golden Spikes Award watchlist is an honor. To be noted a finalist is a great accomplishment. That's where our story begins.
Once upon a time, in the ancient year 2010 Anno Domini, there was a machine. That machine roamed the University of Central Florida campus, tearing apart school and conference records en route to being named a Golden Spikes Award finalist, alongside Harper, Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, and Yasmani Grandal.
Every single finalist from that season went in the first round, except for one. That one - this machine named Christopher Duffy - fell to the 26th round before the Philadelphia Phillies selected him. A left-handed outfielder with plus-plus power, Duffy looked like a steal. After all, his fellow Golden Spikes finalists had all gone within the first thirteen picks of the draft.
In the Phillies system, though, he wasn't even the most heralded player named Chris Duffy.
His career got off to a decent-enough start: After being drafted, he slashed .272/.384/.450 with a 133 wRC+, a 14.3% walk rate, and a 19.7% strikeout rate for the rookie-level GCL Phillies. The following year, he repeated the level, with better results: .293/.399/.504, 157 wRC+, 14.2 BB%, 21.6 K%, and a .211 ISO.
The Phillies continued to move him slowly through the system, though, moving him to the Lakewood BlueClaws of the Single-A South Atlantic League for 2012. He cleaned up at the plate yet again: .384/.466/.620, 196 wRC+, 12.3 BB%, 21.7 K%, .236 ISO.
Throughout it all, he carried an astronomically-high BABIP, thanks largely to his powerful line-drive approach. Against significantly-rawer prospects, he destroyed baseballs. But like a lot of power hitters, he struggled with the strikeout.
The Phillies promoted him to the High-A Florida State League, and the wheels came off the bus. Despite being old for the level, Duffy's strikeout rate skyrocketed, his walk rate plummeted, his power disappeared, and he limped to a wRC+ of just 85 through 175 plate appearances.
Cut to the Spring of 2014, and Duffy finds himself in the Houston Astros' camp, hat in hand, asking for a chance to fight for a roster spot on a Double-A team at the tender age of 26, and the subject of this Evan Drellich article.
Drellich is no dummy, and he spends half of the article talking about Adron Chambers, another guy who got signed after a tryout, who then parlayed that into a career that already includes one World Series ring.
After spending 2013 in the independent Canadian-American League (with a little bit of time in Atlantic League, as well), could Chris Duffy be the next Adron Chambers?
Chambers, of course, was an Athlete-with-a-capital-A who'd seen some off-field problems land him in hot water. He was still young when he tried out for the Cardinals in 2007. Chris Duffy was drafted as a senior, played against much-younger competition in the minors, and was never known for his athletic prowess. A 26-year-old left-handed first baseman with a lot of thump in his bat and not a lot else going for him.
"I've been sending emails and texts, and the Astros, I don't think they answered their phones, or I didn't get their number right or something," Duffy said. "I was like, 'Man, they're right there. Let me just walk over and give them my information.' "
It's tough to see a highly-touted player reduced to knocking on the proverbial front door to get a response from a team that has lost 324 games over the past three seasons.
Let me tell you, as someone who was a Chris Duffy fan when he was at UCF, the man can hit a baseball a long, long way. He was a joy to watch in 2010. Now, four years later, all he's asking for is a chance to show that he can still compete. With thirteen home runs and a .287/.384/.478 slash line in independent baseball in 2013, could he earn that chance with the Astros?
What do you think? Is this a faded star who should learn to move on with his life, or is this a perfect fit - a player with nothing to lose and a team with nothing to lose?