Giants infielder Matt Duffy never showed the potential or the tools of some of his Long Beach State predecessors, but he’s making the most of his MLB opportunity, and proving his doubters wrong.
Long Beach State is known nationally as Shortstop University, and Matt Duffy had some big shoes to fill coming into his freshman year in 2010. The Dirtbags he had looked up to before him featured Bobby Crosby (2001 – 25th overall), Troy Tulowitzki (2005 – seventh overall) Danny Espinosa (2008 – 87th overall) and lesser known Devin Lohman (2010 – 94th overall).
Crosby was the Rookie of the Year, Tulo is the best shortstop in baseball and Espinosa has made a fine career for himself. Evan Longoria also came into Long Beach as a shortstop, but Tulo wasn’t moving and with Espinosa coming into the 2006 class as a freshman, he projected more as a third basemen. Very tough acts to follow when so much is expected from the Long Beach State shortstops. Talent wise, Duffy wasn’t the same caliber as these former Dirtbags, but what he learned from the program would prove to be invaluable.
Duffy’s collegiate numbers don’t jump off the page when you glance at them: 140 games, 501 ABs, 127 hits, 16 doubles, one triple, 60 RBI, 10 SB and a .253 average. In college, those numbers aren’t good, considering your upper-echelon prospects hit mid .300 or higher.
When you look at his profile, 6’2” 170 pounds, it’s easy to see him at short, but he doesn’t possess any Major League tool to play there. He lacks range, arm strength, speed and power. I was the undergraduate assistant coach for the Dirtbags in 2012 and 2013. I worked with the bullpen arms because that’s what my background is, and rarely saw Duffy in practice. Still, being a part of every game, I was never impressed with his ability. I never looked his way and said, “That guy will play in the big leagues.” To be frank, that was the consensus amongst many scouts, but it only takes one guy to love you and give you a chance. The Giants gave him that chance and he ran with it.
College baseball and professional baseball are very different. Whatever program you go and play for, it’s about the program, nothing is more important than the program. A lot of times, players buy into the program and their way of playing, but the program may not fit the player. Teaching is constantly going on. Coaches are also trying to see what you can do to help the team, not necessarily that player. They are focused on your short-term success while you’re playing for them, and not what affects it could have on your career.
Matt Duffy bought into the rich tradition that Long Beach State baseball has, and its possible it hampered his development. When you’re constantly playing for something as a whole and focused on how they want you to do things, it’s easy to lose sight of what got you there in the first place. Pro ball is much looser. They ask themselves, “What does this player do well?” They let each player play the game the way they play it and critique here and there. The organization is more concerned with how you develop and how you can better yourself to be an addition to their big league roster.
To simplify it, there is more of a hands-on approach at the college level than in pro ball. Example: Some players are great first pitch fastball hitters if it’s in their zone, and they’re sitting dead red. College coaches will sometime direct hitters to take the first pitch if the pitcher is struggling to find the zone or if they are trying to work the count more. Once Duffy got to pro ball, the training wheels were taken off.
The Duff man had a very productive minor league career before making his debut in 2014. He scattered the ball across three levels. His stats in A-ball, High-A and Double-A looked like this: 201 games, 762 at bats, 241 hits, 44 doubles, eight triples, 12 home runs, 119 RBI, 45 steals and a .316 avg. Really quality numbers across the board. I would often check in on the guys that played when I was on the staff, and every time I checked in on him he was hitting to my surprise. All he had to worry about now was his him, not worried about school or whether or not they would win a series that weekend. His job was now baseball, and he could focus solely on getting better.
Clearly, that helped him develop and turned him into the player he is today. He was in the perfect organization at the exact moment and was doing his job to earn the promotion. Had Joe Panik not gotten injured or if the Dan Uggla experiment worked out, he may have had to wait for his opportunity.
Matt is versatile and teams love that. He can handle third base, second base, probably first and if they’re in a crunch they could plug him in at short. Another opportunity came knocking in 2015 when free agent signee Casey McGehee couldn’t hit his weight and the Giants went to the next man up, utility man Matt Duffy. He has seized every single moment this year and he is reaping the rewards. Duffy is hitting .289 with eight home runs and 37 RBI ten days before the All-Star break, and he has been a difference-maker for the Giants so far. Believe me when I say this, he came out of nowhere.
He still doesn’t have a true Major League tool, but that doesn’t matter. He has instincts, he is smart and he is what you call a “baseball player.” He may not have the talent like some of his counterparts but he has a baseball mind. At Long Beach State, he had things like preparation, taking it one pitch at a time, one game at a time, one play at a time drilled into his skull. He was never at the mercy of results and worked the process every day. Since Duffy bought into the program, those things have helped him prove his doubters wrong, including me.
I guarantee you he proved himself right because that man is playing with confidence like I have never seen from him. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see him exceed expectations and be a staple in the Giants’ lineup right now. He plays the game the right way and has taken advantage of his time. He deserves this just as much as the next guy. Congratulations, Matt.