By JAY LeBLANC
The Kansas City Royals boast a pair of front-line right-handed starters in Zack Greinke and Gil Meche, and if Danny Duffy keeps mowing down minor league hitters, it might not be long before they have a top-flight southpaw in their rotation as well. Duffy is still a few rungs down the ladder - he’s currently pitching for the advanced Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks - but his 13-8 record, 2.36 ERA and 189-to-51 K-to-walk ratio in 144 2/3 pro innings to date suggest he’s a good bet to climb quickly.
Duffy stood just 5-foot-4 and could only throw about 70 miles per hour when he first stepped foot in Cabrillo High in Lompoc, Calif., but by his senior year he was 6-foot-3 and unleashing mid-90s heat. He signed a letter of intent with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo but signed with the Royals for a $364,500 bonus after they selected him with the second pick of the third round of the 2007 draft. Duffy was nothing short of dominant in his pro debut that summer, posting a 1.45 ERA and fanning 63 batters in just 37 1/3 innings for the Royals’ Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate. He followed that up by going 8-4 with a 2.20 ERA and 102 K’s in 81 2/3 innings for the Class A Burlington Bees last year before his season was cut short in late August because of shoulder discomfort. Baseball America ranked him as the sixth-best prospect in the Royals organization this past offseason.
Still just 20 years old, Duffy is off to a good start this season with the Blue Rocks. He’s 3-1 with a 4.21 ERA and has fanned 24 batters in 25 2/3 innings in his first five starts, and gave up six of his 12 earned runs in his lone poor start on April 26 against the Chicago White Sox-affiliated Winston-Salem Dash. I had a chance to speak with Duffy last week while his Blue Rocks were in Woodbridge, Va., to take on the Washington Nationals-affiliated Potomac Nationals.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Royals? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: I had no idea, man. I had no idea. I had a bunch of West Coast teams at my house, but it was a total surprise, and that’s usually what happens. When people don’t come into your house, that’s usually what everybody says - surprise surprise usually in the draft.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: My fastball, I like to use that pretty much most of the time - I guess about 70 percent of the time. I have a changeup and usually if it’s consistent - which I’m really working on, trying to get it to be consistent - I like to mix that in there, and a curveball, a pretty heavy 12-6. If I can get those two offspeed pitches to start getting consistent it would be nice, but I try to dominate with my fastball.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout pitcher, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: I try to think of myself as a K guy, a strikeout guy, but as you go up in levels the numbers are going to start dwindling down. Last year I was, and I think I still consider myself a strikeout guy.
Q: What aspects of pitching are you most focused on trying to improve upon this year?
A: Consistency, for sure - just being consistent with all my pitches. And, you know, just basically keeping the ball down, because I saw what happened [April 26] in Winston-Salem - I had three bombs hit off me. So, you know, adjust from it and take everything I can from each outing.
Q: The Royals shut you down last August because of shoulder discomfort. Are those issues completely in the rear-view?
A: It’s all gone. It’s all gone. We’re good. I just had a little scap issue - my shoulder blade wasn’t holding my rotator cuff in place and it was kind of coming forward, but we strengthened it and it’s all good.
Q: Did you say a “scap” issue? S-C-A-P?
A: I guess, yeah. That’s what the trainers told me - I don’t know what the heck that means. But they worked on it and got it kicked out.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: Andy Pettitte, for sure. He just keeps a straight face every time out, and I’m not too good with keeping my composure sometimes, so I try to emulate him as much as I can.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Royals?
A: As soon as they need me, man. I’d say now because I really want to get up there, but honestly, realistically, the next couple years. I’ve just got to keep working and see what happens. I’ve got to stay healthy.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009: Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox; Mike Moustakas, Royals
2008: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.