A third round draft pick in 2007, Kansas City Royals LHP Danny Duffy was the first of a wave of promising young arms to flood the Royals farm system with major league caliber talent. At age 20, Duffy represented the Royals in the MLB Futures Game and the following spring, he earned an invitation to Spring Training.
All that promise almost slipped through the Royals fingers though as Duffy decided during the spring that he wanted to retire from baseball to reexamine his priorities.
Fortunately for the Royals, Duffy decided in June that he wanted to return to baseball and despite missing the first few months of the minor league season, he showed he still had that power arm the Royals coveted, hitting 95-97 mph consistently through the rest of the season. Despite the layoff, Duffy proved he was still one of the top arms in the system.
Heading into 2011, Duffy wasn’t even the highest ranked LHP in his own organization though. In a system as deep as Kansas City’s was in 2011, Duffy entered the year overshadowed by John Lamb and Mike Montgomery, while Chris Dwyer, also a lefty, was ranked close behind him.
All four LHP’s spent the final games of 2010 in Double A, but it was Montgomery who had spent the most time at that level and appeared to be first in line to get a shot at the first avalable spot in the major league rotation. Montgomery got off to a poor start in 2011 however (which he never recovered from), and Lamb ended up needing Tommy John Surgery early leaving Duffy as the first option for an early season promotion.
Duffy’s major league debut was anything but dominating, as he finished with a 4-8 record while compiling a 5.64 ERA, 1.61 WHIP and giving up 15 HR in 105 1/3 IP. A 4.4 BB/9 and 5 hit batsmen showed just how much Duffy struggled with his command in 2011, but a 7.4 K/9 and a .329 BABIP showed all hope wasn’t lost.
Duffy has looked like a different pitcher in 2012, and it starts with the jump in his average fastball velocity. After sitting in the 93 MPH range last season, Duffy has improved that number to the 97 MPH he flashed when he returned from his retirement in 2010. That spike has helped Duffy post a K/9 over 10 (which is similar to his MiLB numbers) and improve his K/BB over 2. An improvement in his BABIP (down to .315) and his HR/9 (0.8) have helped him start the season off 2-2 with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP.
Duffy still has some growth to undergo and his numbers this year are being helped by a favorable left on base percentage and that low HR/9, but 97 MPH throwing lefties are the mythical unicorns of baseball and given his track record, Duffy is making a strong case for owners to invest in him now. And since he should be relatively cheap to acquire given his lack of track record to this point, he is the perfect target for owners rebuilding their franchises to take a flier on.
His path to the big leagues may have been more unusual than the road others have taken, but his talent and passion seem to have him on the path to fantasy stardom.