Can Kelby Tomlinson be This Year’s 2014 Matt Duffy?


It’s easy to forget the slow start to Matt Duffy‘s Major League career. With his emergence as the San Fransisco Giants‘ third baseman and a legitimate contender for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, the Duffman is becoming a bonafide rockstar in the Bay Area. But it didn’t start out like that in the big leagues.

When Duffy was first recalled last year, he was a spot starter and pinch runner, giving guys who needed rest a day off, and guys who weren’t exactly fleet-footed a respite on the basepaths. This season, Kelby Tomlinson could become the 2015 version of 2014 Duffy.

There are plenty of similarities between the two. Right off the bat, the two look like brothers. Both are tall and lanky, with Duffy standing 6’2″ and weighing 170 pounds while Tomlinson is 6’3″ and 180 pounds. They were both drafted as shortstops, and have become middle infielders by trade.

Both started their respective seasons at Double-A Richmond. Duffy was promoted straight from the Flying Squirrels, while Tomlinson had a short stint in Triple-A with the Sacramento River Cats before his big league promotion.

The two were even housemates at Double-A, according to Andrew Baggarly.

The Thin Twins (thanks for that one, Baggs!) were enjoying quite similar Minor League seasons at the time of their big league shot.

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Duffy earned his first big league call-up on August 1st, 2014. Tomlinson’s came on August 3rd, 2015. Some of the parallels between the two are downright eerie.

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Their major league careers got off to very different starts, however. Tomlinson made his debut on Monday, and got off to a roaring start. In his first career at-bat in the 11th inning, he roped a single against Atlanta Braves’ reliever Ross Detwiler on the third pitch he saw. After a hit-by-pitch moved him to second, and a long flyout (off of Duffy’s bat) chased him over to third, he scored the go-ahead run on a Buster Posey single.

He outdid himself on Wednesday, when he made his first career start with the Giants. Batting eighth, he blooped a single to right field, collecting his first and second career RBI in the process during the second inning. In his second at-bat of the night, he sent a seeing-eye single through the middle, collecting his third RBI. He became the first Giants’ hitter since Fred Lewis in 2006 to collect hits in each of his first three career chances.

Duffy’s career got off to a more inconspicuous start than that. In his debut on August 1st, he started at second base and batted second. He didn’t collect a hit in any of his first three plate appearances, but in the fourth, he lined a single into left field that brought in a run. He was retired in each of his next seven at-bats, but rebounded with a pair of hits in his fourth game.

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After the slow start, Duffy became a valuable member of the Giants’ bench. Notably, he was an excellent pinch-hitter, collecting six hits in 15 at-bats. His speed became a precious asset, most memorably in game two of the National League Division Series. In the ninth inning, after an Andrew Susac base hit, Matt Duffy replaced him as a pinch-runner.

With two outs and the Giants trailing by a run, St. Louis Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal uncorked a wild pitch. As catcher Tony Cruz searched for the ball, Duffy showed off his baseball smarts. Duffy motored around third base, and made a big risk pay off by sliding into home and scoring the game-tying run.

Tomlinson can easily play the same role that Duffy did last season. He can become an extremely valuable member of a Giants’ bench mob, playing a late-inning speed replacement, taking a slow player off the basepaths, and putting Tomlinson, who can absolutely motor, in their place to wreak some havoc.

Infield depth has been a big issue for the Giants this year. With Joe Panik currently on the shelf with his back injury, someone has to step up. Ehire Adrianza has been swinging a hot bat lately, and Tomlinson is off to a great start. If Tomlinson can keep it up, and Adrianza can do the same, the glaring weakness that has been their backup infielders could become yet another strength.

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