Buster Posey makes sense. He was one of the very best prospects in the game as soon as he was drafted. It wasn't necessarily guaranteed that he would be a perennial All-Star, but that was certainly a reasonable scenario.
Brandon Belt makes sense. He didn't do enough at Texas to be a first-rounder, but he was an athletic, strong player with obvious tools. It's always a surprise when a fifth-rounder becomes an above-average regular, but Belt's tools were never in doubt.
Joe Panik makes sense. He was thought to be a little bit of a reach in the first round because he had only one tool that was an okay bet to be average or better, so the thinking was that he would need to hit for average if he was going to become a solid regular or better. He's doing that, and he's turning into his own best-case scenario.
Brandon Crawford makes sense. If he had hit just a little bit at UCLA, he would have been a first-rounder, possibly a top-10 pick. Everyone kept waiting for him to break out as a college player, but he never did. The Giants got smart-lucky drafting him where they did, but there was always a chance that his tools would eventually turn into production. Every player who falls out of the first round has that chance.
Matt Duffy makes no sense.
Consider that over the weekend, Duffy hit more triples and homers than he did in 571 plate appearances with an aluminum bat in college. Oh, have I mentioned his college stats before? Good, get used to it because these suckers will always, always, always be interesting, and I will bring them up six times every month for the rest of his career if he keeps hitting like this.
2010 (freshman year): .244/.245/.291, 0 HR
2011: .266/.298/.290, 0 HR
2012: .244/.336/.289, 0 HR
When the Giants drafted him in the 18th round, he had the option to go back to school and use a successful senior year to improve on his draft standing. Or he could sign for $50,000. He did the latter, and while that had more to do with him being eager to start his pro career, I'm sure most advisors would have agreed that was a smart business decision for him, too. Take the money and run, kid. If someone is offering you $50,000 to play baseball, take it. For every Mark Trumbo that plays for the team that drafted him in the 18th round, there are 27 or 28 kids who will never see the majors.
Duffy started his minor-league career with one homer and four doubles in 216 plate appearances, good for a .247/.361/.286 line. Other than the inflated walk total, that is about what everyone should have expected. When the Giants started the 2013 season, this was the state of the Matt Duffy experience. It was possible for good-looking Giants nerds to get together and list 44 of the best prospects in the system, and never mention his name once.
I don't know what happened between 2012 and 2013. Probably a montage. The only thing I know is that Duffy doesn't make sense, but he can sure teach us a lot.
The first lesson of Matt Duffy
Pay attention to the minor leaguers who strike out about as much as they walk. Before you look at any other statistic (other than maybe home runs, of course), check the walks. Check the strikeouts. If they're about even (and neither of them are absurdly deflated or inflated), pay attention to that player. You could also call this the Joe Panik Rule, and it applies to any prospect, regardless if they're doing other impressive things.
in 2013, this skinny afterthought was hitting .303/.389/.443 across two levels, including a cool 45 walks to 41 strikeouts in Low-A. This isn't to suggest that he should have been a top prospect then -- it was a performance that just barely got him onto a consensus top-30 list -- but the lesson isn't that every kid will be a star if he can work a count at the same time he's making contact. The lesson is to pay attention to those types.
The second lesson of Matt Duffy
When a player tears up the Eastern League, assume he's just about the greatest player on the planet, and use that as the baseline for your forecasts. Duffy hit .332 with walks and doubles power for Richmond in 2014, which is why he got called up in the first place. Mark Minicozzi hit for average in the EL, but he was 30. Juan Perez and Francisco Peguero both hit for average in the EL, but they struck out an awful more than they walked, and there wasn't a lot of power behind that average. Brandon Belt hit for average in the EL, but also hit for power and took walks, and he was awesome.
Therefore, when players go to the Eastern League, hit for doubles power, take walks, hit for a high average, and aren't old for their league, they're always awesome. Give or take.
The third lesson of Matt Duffy
Players who can handle shortstop should always be regarded well if they can hit a little bit, too. Duffy didn't play anything other than shortstop as a professional until July 25 last year, and the reports were that he could handle short well enough. He was never going to be a defensive star, but he wasn't going to embarrass himself. Which meant there were three possible ways for him to break into the majors, because if he could do well enough as a shortstop, that meant he could do well enough as a second baseman or third baseman.
So combined with the first two lessons, the third lesson means that we should have paid attention to Duffy a heckuva lot more. Because without that third lesson, you could have slipped "Brock Bond" into all of the above lessons, and it all would have been historically accurate, for the most part. The extra athleticism required from a full-time shortstop means that a fantastic Eastern League line probably shouldn't be filed in the "who cares/no tools" bin.
The fourth lesson of Matt Duffy
The fourth lesson of Matt Duffy is that Matt Duffy does not make sense, so please disregard the previous three lessons.
There, that pretty much covers it. It's not like we should have seen this coming. While I was in favor of Duffy starting over McGehee, it's not like I was angry at the McGehee trade. The move made a certain amount of sense. And it's not like I ever dreamed of thinking, "Nah, don't need Pablo because we have Duffy," much less wrote about it. I was on board for five years, $100 million for Sandoval, and I tried to convince everyone of the same.
Nope, apparently Duffy was the right answer the whole time, and the Giants found out quickly enough to limit the damages. He can get even better, too. He can still draw more walks, and he's done it in the past. Now that other teams know he can hit the ball out, pitchers will approach him with care. The OBP will go up, I'll guess.
It's about time that something broke the Giants' way, in my opinion.
After two decades of developing almost nothing between Matt Williams and Pablo Sandoval, the Giants figured out a way to have an entirely homegrown and young infield, even after Sandoval left. This one should be around for a while. The other guys, we saw coming to some degree. There were surprises (especially Crawford), but they didn't break the general concept of scouting and everything we once knew to be true.
Duffy does. He makes no sense, and he ended up saving the Giants, after all. Good for him, and good for us. He's been one of the best revelations of the 2015 season.