Before 2009: Duff was selected out of noted baseball powerhouse The College of the Sequoias in the 21st round of the 2004 draft by the Yankees. He debuted with the organization’s Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2005, going 0-1 with a 6.48 ERA in four appearances.
He seemed to put that inauspicious debut behind him in 2006, dominating the Gulf Coast League to the tune of a 5-1 record with a 1.14 ERA in 11 appearances while holding the opposition to a microscopic .155 batting average against. He finished the season in Staten Island, and was sent to Low-A Charleston to begin the 2007 season.
Pitching exclusively as a starter for the first time in his pro career, Duff went 14-8 with a 3.82 ERA in 27 starts, but led the league with 80 walks compared to just 82 strikeouts. He also had 13 wild pitches to his credit.
In 2008, Duff spent the entire season in High-A Tampa, going 3-6 with a 4.30 ERA in 30 appearances, including eight starts. But his relief splits (2-2, 3.60) were significantly better than his splits as a starter (1-4, 5.15).
2009: Duff began the year as a big, 26-year old reliever who needed a big year to finally establish himself as a legitimate prospect — it was either that or he was one year closer to needing to find another organization after being unable to solidify a spot in any key role.
He’d end it in the Arizona Fall League after earning a brief postseason call-up to Triple-A, both signs that he’d finally made big strides in the Yankees farm system.
Inbetween those two points, Duff began the season pitching out of the Tampa Yankees bullpen, posting solid numbers (0-1, 3.82) in 24 appearances before finally being summoned to Trenton a week or so into July. Duff immediately became one of the pillars of the bullpen, although he’d occasionally struggle with command. Ultimately, he posted a 4-2 record with a 3.22 ERA in 21 appearances — which, when combined with his games pitched in Tampa, gave him a career high 45 appearances — and he held the Eastern League to a .222 batting average against.
After 2009: Duff has earned a reputation as one of the hardest throwers in the upper levels of the farm system, if not the whole organization. His fastball has allegedly touched 99 MPH — he certainly never did that at Waterfront Park — and generally sits at 96 or 97 once he gets a few pitches into an outing, when he’s usually at 93-94.
At 27 years old going into the 2010 season, the time is now for Duff. While it’s possible he could start the season in the Thunder bullpen, the more likely scenario sees him pitching out of Scranton’s bullpen to start 2010. Depending on how things go for him at PNC Field, Duff has a legitimate chance to wear Yankee pinstripes at some point in 2010.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com