By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Matt Duffy, Third baseman, San Francisco Giants
2015 season (Majors): 149 G, 573 AB, .295 BA, 12 HR, 77 RBI, 12 SB, .762 OPS
Many top-flight rookies are once highly regarded prospects whose debuts are anticipated by the fans and the club — and then there’s Matt Duffy. An 18th round pick of the Giants in 2012, Duffy quietly rose up the Minor Leagues with a soft but consistent bat. He hit .333/.398/.444 at Double-A in ‘14, and then, without any experience at Triple-A, won the starting third-base gig last spring and never looked back.
Not expected to be your typical slugging third baseman, Duffy entered his rookie year having hit just 13 homers in 248 Minor League games. So what did he do in 149 big league games? Club 12 homers, of course. While he may not ever reach the 20-homer plateau, Duffy does so many other things well that the fact he can hit double-digit homers is an added bonus.
The 25-year-old has speed, and that wasn’t a surprise like that power was in 2015. Duffy had 55 steals in two full Minor League seasons, so the 12 steals he posted last year was actually a bit low given his expectations and there could be a bit of a boost this year if the Giants want to run him a bit more. Steals are down league-wide, so that may not happen, but if San Francisco wants to cut Duffy loose a bit more (he wasn’t caught stealing once last year) he could certainly net 15-20 stolen bases, if not more.
Where Duffy shines is his ability to hit for contact and get on base. His Major League slash line was in line with his Minor League numbers, so there shouldn’t be much regression. His contact rate on swings at strikes was near the top of the league at 92 percent, and his swinging-strike percentage was a miniscule 7.5. When Duffy swings, he doesn’t hack, he hits the ball. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was high at .336, but that’s something a contact hitter relies on. Duffy also has the speed to make potential outs into singles and stretch potential singles into doubles.
Fangraphs’ Steamer projections, notably conservative, have him hitting .275/.322/.392, which is a drop, but not much of one. They also give him credit for 10 homers and 10 steals, though there’s no reason to believe Duffy can’t swipe 20 bags if he gets the green light. There is 15-15 potential here along with an average that will hover around .300. The power was surprising last year, and a drop in homers seems very possible, but everything else that Duffy accomplished in his rookie year — in which he finished second in the NL ROY Award voting to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant — can be more than duplicated.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.