Yankees Believe Duff Is A Late-Bloomer

Riddled with injuries in his amateur days and missing the majority of his first professional season last year, Grant Duff is finally healthy in 2006. Even though he is 23-years old, there is still a ton of mileage left in his arm. Drafted not once but twice by the Yankees, he has the stuff to be a sleeper prospect and New York believes he is a late-bloomer.

"It all started in high school when I was 17-years old when I had Tommy John surgery because of bad pitching mechanics," Grant Duff began describing his extensive injury history. "That carried over into college. I missed a year because of that. Then in the second year of college I went out and had an okay beginning to the season, talked to some teams, then ended up becoming real wild I guess. At the end of the year I wound up getting drafted by the Yankees as a draft-and-follow."

"I came back for the third year, my draft-and-follow year, and ended up blowing out my knee covering first base, so I missed that year. That happened in March of that year and the Yankees re-drafted me again the next year as a draft-and-follow hoping I could make it back from the injury."

"It turns out I did and I got signed as a draft-and-follow," Duff continued. "Then I came out here last year for the GCL and in my fourth start I took a comebacker off of my foot and broke my foot in ten places. They sent me home and now I'm out here for my first season, having fun, and doing good."

Healthy in Spring Training this year for the first time since his high school days, the Yankees finally had an opportunity to work with him extensively this season and it paid immediate dividends. Duff went 5-1 with a 1.14 ERA in 11 games for the Gulf Coast League Yankees before earning a promotion to Staten Island.

"When I came out in Spring Training I felt I was a little behind because of my mechanics," said Duff. "I hadn't worked with professional pitching coaches very much and I finally got to work with Carlos Reyes and Nardi. Carlos has done a great job for me. He really helped me in the places I needed help. He's done amazing things to my mechanics."

"It's so much easier for me to pitch. My fastball is getting better and better," he continued. "I'm able to locate it better because of better mechanics. My slider is getting better and better because of the better mechanics also. I owe a lot of it to Carlos. I've had my ups and downs in Spring Training and Extended Spring Training, and finally it's all starting to click. Everything's real smooth [mechanics-wise]."

A big-bodied pitcher, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Duff embodies a power pitcher. Armed with a plus fastball, his power slider gives him a lethal one-two punch.

"By far, the slider's definitely my out pitch," Duff said with a smile. "But I also like to use my fastball as an out pitch. I don't know, it's always fun to strike somebody out on a fastball. I've got a good hard-fastball that's 90-95 MPH."

His slider, usually around 81-82, ranges between 78-84 MPH and it gives him a second plus pitch. Duff and the Yankees are trying to incorporate a consistent changeup in his arsenal to help keep hitters off-balance.

"Outstanding," GCL pitching coach Carlos Reyes used to describe Duff, "he's been great. He's worked his butt off. He's done everything I asked him. He's got a great fastball and a great slider. He uses his height. He's got a great angle on his fastball. We're working on his changeup."

"He has shown he has the ability to throw a great changeup," Reyes continued. "Once he gets that one pitch - right now he can dominate with the fastball and slider - but it's always nice to have that third pitch, especially a changeup."

Reyes remains confident in Duff's changeup, even borderline impressed with his third pitch. But Duff on the other hand hasn't been as optimistic.

"I'm doing my best to develop a changeup," Duff admitted. "It's the most frustrating thing I've ever done in my life. It's a pitch everyone says that will go good with my fastball and slider. I'm doing my best to develop it."

"I'm just getting comfortable enough with it that I'm throwing it in games more often," Duff added. "I used to throw only one or two a game, now I'm throwing eight or nine a game. I'm trying to get at least 60 percent of them for strikes. That's the pitch that I need the most. I think once I get that it will be a big plus."

Reyes and the Yankees are not too worried about the development of Duff's changeup. The fact that Duff has already come a long way in cleaning up his mechanics to better his slider and fastball are good signs of his coachabilty.

"My fastball command - I think Nardi said I'm a zone pitcher - which means if I'm throwing it on the outside corner, I'll hit it six out of ten times," said Duff. "I can usually throw it for a strike. Sometimes I miss a little bit over the plate. Luckily I haven't been hurt too much by that this year. As long as I'm missing down, everything's great."

"I'd say, in high school and college, I used to miss by a foot outside. Now I'm missing three or four inches outside, which if you're lucky enough, you can get a hitter to swing at that or the umpire will call that. I think I'm missing in the zone more, which is good because I'm not getting behind hitters as much and I'm not walking as many people. They're actually swinging at it instead of having ball after ball, which is frustrating."

Duff, originally selected in the 30th round of the 2003 MLB Draft before being drafted by the Yankees again in the 31st round of the 2004 MLB Draft, has made marked improvements with his fastball this season. And while he has struggled with the command of his fastball at times, his slider is always a reliable fall-back for him when needed.

"The slider I can throw in any count," a confident Duff told PinstripesPlus.com. "I'd throw it 0-0, 3-0 if I have to, 3-2 - I feel like I can throw a strike with that at any time. It's a fun pitch for me. I don't know, I kind of like making people look confused and missing completely. That's something that I've relied on for the last four years, and now it's getting a lot better."

A power pitcher with tremendous make-up on the mound, possessing two plus pitches already, the fact that he turns 24-years old in December has some observers wondering if a move to the bullpen might be in his future if he can't become more consistent with his changeup.

"I've never been out of the bullpen," said the California native. "I prefer starting. Starting a game and coming in [later] is two different mentalities. I've always been a starter. If me moving to the bullpen is what's going to get me moving up, then I'm willing to do that. But I prefer to start. I think that's the better role and it suits me."

Carlos Reyes agrees. "I think he's more designed as a starter. He's going to pick up the changeup. I mean, his role is going to be a starter. He's got the endurance, he's got the body, and he's a strong kid. Starting role for me more than coming out of the bullpen," Reyes said where he sees Duff projecting.

Noticeably frustrated with the changeup, Duff hasn't totally written off the idea of transitioning to the bullpen if the trade-off is a quicker ascension towards the big leagues, conjuring up thoughts of T.J. Beam's meteoric rise to the majors.

"If it gets me in Yankee Stadium I won't have any complaints about that," Duff said if he were switched to a reliever. "I've heard that story about T.J. Beam quite a bit actually. That's awesome that he was able to do that. If they wanted to move me to reliever, and all I had to do is throw a fastball and a slider, it would make my life a lot easier because I'm super-frustrated with the changeup right now."

"I'm doing my best," Duff concluded. "I'm throwing it 95 percent of the time in bullpens and I can't seem to get a feel for it off of the mound. When I throw it out here [off flat ground], no problem, but once I get on a mound I can't throw it as well. T.J. Beam went right through it [the minors] with a fastball and a slider and I wouldn't mind doing that either."

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\n\"It all started in high school when I was 17-years old when I had Tommy John surgery because of bad pitching mechanics,\" Grant Duff began describing his extensive injury history. \"That carried over into college. I missed a year because of that. Then in the second year of college I went out and had an okay beginning to the season, talked to some teams, then ended up becoming real wild I guess. At the end of the year I wound up getting drafted by the Yankees as a draft-and-follow.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I came back for the third year, my draft-and-follow year, and ended up blowing out my knee covering first base, so I missed that year. That happened in March of that year and the Yankees re-drafted me again the next year as a draft-and-follow hoping I could make it back from the injury.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"It turns out I did and I got signed as a draft-and-follow,\" Duff continued. \"Then I came out here last year for the GCL and in my fourth start I took a comebacker off of my foot and broke my foot in ten places. They sent me home and now I'm out here for my first season, having fun, and doing good.\"
\r\n
\r\nHealthy in Spring Training this year for the first time since his high school days, the Yankees finally had an opportunity to work with him extensively this season and it paid immediate dividends. Duff went 5-1 with a 1.14 ERA in 11 games for the Gulf Coast League Yankees before earning a promotion to Staten Island.
\r\n
\r\n\"When I came out in Spring Training I felt I was a little behind because of my mechanics,\" said Duff. \"I hadn't worked with professional pitching coaches very much and I finally got to work with Carlos Reyes and Nardi. Carlos has done a great job for me. He really helped me in the places I needed help. He's done amazing things to my mechanics.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"It's so much easier for me to pitch. My fastball is getting better and better,\" he continued. \"I'm able to locate it better because of better mechanics. My slider is getting better and better because of the better mechanics also. I owe a lot of it to Carlos. I've had my ups and downs in Spring Training and Extended Spring Training, and finally it's all starting to click. Everything's real smooth [mechanics-wise].\"
\r\n
\r\nA big-bodied pitcher, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Duff embodies a power pitcher. Armed with a plus fastball, his power slider gives him a lethal one-two punch.
\r\n
\r\n\"By far, the slider's definitely my out pitch,\" Duff said with a smile. \"But I also like to use my fastball as an out pitch. I don't know, it's always fun to strike somebody out on a fastball. I've got a good hard-fastball that's 90-95 MPH.\"
\r\n
\r\nHis slider, usually around 81-82, ranges between 78-84 MPH and it gives him a second plus pitch. Duff and the Yankees are trying to incorporate a consistent changeup in his arsenal to help keep hitters off-balance.
\r\n
\r\n\"Outstanding,\" GCL pitching coach Carlos Reyes used to describe Duff, \"he's been great. He's worked his butt off. He's done everything I asked him. He's got a great fastball and a great slider. He uses his height. He's got a great angle on his fastball. We're working on his changeup.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"He has shown he has the ability to throw a great changeup,\" Reyes continued. \"Once he gets that one pitch - right now he can dominate with the fastball and slider - but it's always nice to have that third pitch, especially a changeup.\"
\r\n
\r\nReyes remains confident in Duff's changeup, even borderline impressed with his third pitch. But Duff on the other hand hasn't been as optimistic.
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm doing my best to develop a changeup,\" Duff admitted. \"It's the most frustrating thing I've ever done in my life. It's a pitch everyone says that will go good with my fastball and slider. I'm doing my best to develop it.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm just getting comfortable enough with it that I'm throwing it in games more often,\" Duff added. \"I used to throw only one or two a game, now I'm throwing eight or nine a game. I'm trying to get at least 60 percent of them for strikes. That's the pitch that I need the most. I think once I get that it will be a big plus.\"
\r\n
\r\nReyes and the Yankees are not too worried about the development of Duff's changeup. The fact that Duff has already come a long way in cleaning up his mechanics to better his slider and fastball are good signs of his coachabilty.
\r\n
\r\n\"My fastball command - I think Nardi said I'm a zone pitcher - which means if I'm throwing it on the outside corner, I'll hit it six out of ten times,\" said Duff. \"I can usually throw it for a strike. Sometimes I miss a little bit over the plate. Luckily I haven't been hurt too much by that this year. As long as I'm missing down, everything's great.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I'd say, in high school and college, I used to miss by a foot outside. Now I'm missing three or four inches outside, which if you're lucky enough, you can get a hitter to swing at that or the umpire will call that. I think I'm missing in the zone more, which is good because I'm not getting behind hitters as much and I'm not walking as many people. They're actually swinging at it instead of having ball after ball, which is frustrating.\"
\r\n
\r\nDuff, originally selected in the 30th round of the 2003 MLB Draft before being drafted by the Yankees again in the 31st round of the 2004 MLB Draft, has made marked improvements with his fastball this season. And while he has struggled with the command of his fastball at times, his slider is always a reliable fall-back for him when needed.
\r\n
\r\n\"The slider I can throw in any count,\" a confident Duff told PinstripesPlus.com. \"I'd throw it 0-0, 3-0 if I have to, 3-2 - I feel like I can throw a strike with that at any time. It's a fun pitch for me. I don't know, I kind of like making people look confused and missing completely. That's something that I've relied on for the last four years, and now it's getting a lot better.\"
\r\n
\r\nA power pitcher with tremendous make-up on the mound, possessing two plus pitches already, the fact that he turns 24-years old in December has some observers wondering if a move to the bullpen might be in his future if he can't become more consistent with his changeup.
\r\n
\r\n\"I've never been out of the bullpen,\" said the California native. \"I prefer starting. Starting a game and coming in [later] is two different mentalities. I've always been a starter. If me moving to the bullpen is what's going to get me moving up, then I'm willing to do that. But I prefer to start. I think that's the better role and it suits me.\"
\r\n
\r\nCarlos Reyes agrees. \"I think he's more designed as a starter. He's going to pick up the changeup. I mean, his role is going to be a starter. He's got the endurance, he's got the body, and he's a strong kid. Starting role for me more than coming out of the bullpen,\" Reyes said where he sees Duff projecting.
\r\n
\r\nNoticeably frustrated with the changeup, Duff hasn't totally written off the idea of transitioning to the bullpen if the trade-off is a quicker ascension towards the big leagues, conjuring up thoughts of T.J. Beam's meteoric rise to the majors.
\r\n
\r\n\"If it gets me in Yankee Stadium I won't have any complaints about that,\" Duff said if he were switched to a reliever. \"I've heard that story about T.J. Beam quite a bit actually. That's awesome that he was able to do that. If they wanted to move me to reliever, and all I had to do is throw a fastball and a slider, it would make my life a lot easier because I'm super-frustrated with the changeup right now.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm doing my best,\" Duff concluded. \"I'm throwing it 95 percent of the time in bullpens and I can't seem to get a feel for it off of the mound. When I throw it out here [off flat ground], no problem, but once I get on a mound I can't throw it as well. T.J. Beam went right through it [the minors] with a fastball and a slider and I wouldn't mind doing that either.\"
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