With third locked down, Duffy eyes new heights

Infielder spent offseason practicing at hot corner after learning position in '15

With third locked down, Duffy eyes new heights

SAN FRANCISCO -- The journey Matt Duffy traveled in 2015 was unexpected for both the player and the Giants organization, not to mention Skeeter, the portly family cat he made famous via social media. But this was much more than an Internet novelty act. This was a meteoric rise for a rookie in the big leagues.

Once he was presented with the opportunity to play every day at the Major League level in mid-May, it was Duffy's quick study at third base and his remarkably consistent production at the plate that in the end ranked him as the best National League rookie not named Kris Bryant.

Duffy heads to Arizona for Spring Training this year with a completely different backdrop, but very much the same attitude and determination to continue to improve his game.

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"I would say I exceeded my own expectations last year," Duffy said as he joined other Giants players for the team's FanFest last weekend. "My focus was really showing them I could help them win and staying on the team the whole year, and I accomplished that and then some. This year, it's more of that. That's still the focus every day: What can I do to help this team be better?

Short Feature: Matt Duffy

"For me personally, it's understanding how to make those little adjustments throughout the course of a game and throughout the course of season, and learning when to make those adjustments faster."

True, baseball's known for being a game of adjustments, and often it's in a player's second year that the toughest of those adjustments take place. But Duffy already has seen the rest of the league change approaches with him, and his numbers last year -- monthly averages of .313, .313, .316, .301 and .289 from May through September, for example -- demonstrated an ability to adapt.

"It's to his credit he adjusted very quickly to Major League pitching, because he pays attention, and he's confident," Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "He's willing to make those small adjustments."

Perhaps every bit as impressive as his prowess of the plate, where with 77 RBIs he became the first Giants rookie since Chili Davis in 1982 to eclipse 70, Duffy made himself into a Major League third baseman via on-the-job training. Duffy made the Opening Day roster as a utility player focused on the middle infield. He had made a total of three appearances at third base in his Minor League career and two with the Giants late in 2014. Experience was not on his side.

Duffy's RBI double

Sharing the left side of the infield with Gold Glove Award-winning shortstop Brandon Crawford, Duffy turned out to shine brightly himself, ranking high among NL third basemen in traditional stats and advanced metrics, while demonstrating ample instincts for what is a crucial position on the field.

"It's not easy to do what he did," said Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, who works with the team's infielders. "You're learning a new position at the Major League level, and you're doing it when you didn't have the luxury at Spring Training to work at the position the whole time."

Duffy spent this offseason focusing on being at the hot corner full time. He worked on core strength after playing in 149 games overall in 2015, including starting the last 79 at third and 129 at the position total, and he looks forward to several weeks of intensified work at third.

"It's a good feeling knowing that I can try to be as excellent as I can at one position vs. trying to be efficient at multiple positions," said Duffy, 25. "It's exciting for me to challenge myself and see how much I can improve there. That's one of the things I'm looking forward to the most, finding out how good I can get at third base."

Duffy's barehanded play

Said Wotus: "This spring, I'm sure he's going to feel so much more prepared and confident about playing third base than he was last year."

The start of Spring Training last year seems light years away on the career track of Matt Duffy. After earning postseason time on the Giants' 2014 road to the World Series, he made a huge stride just by making the 2015 ballclub and filling a utility role. Then he and Skeeter went viral on the National League, and the rest is Giants rookie history.

Now, Duffy knows he has to do his part to keep the magical ride going strong, and to take it to the next level.

"I only have job security for as long as I do it well," Duffy said. "I want to do everything I can to help us get back to where we were in 2014. That's exciting to me. There's nothing more fun than October. I got a little taste of that and had a good seat for it, but I'd like to be a bigger part of that. That's my focus."

Duffy's cat

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.