There are, for the moment, two possible paths for left-hander Danny Duffy in 2016. He could find himself bolstering the Royals’ deep bullpen, a power lefty joining ranks with Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria and Luke Hochevar. Likewise, he could also find himself occupying space near the back end of the starting rotation, where he excelled in spurts during both 2014 and 2015.
The third path, of course, involves Duffy taking on both roles this season. That’s why he’s taking an open mind to spring training, which begins with pitchers and catchers reporting to Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 18.
“I can’t really go in with either mind-set,” Duffy said, upon returning to Kansas City last weekend for the organization’s annual Fan Fest. “I suppose I better just be ready for whatever, and I am, for sure.”
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The specific role and the future of Duffy, 27, could be one of the more intriguing story lines in a spring training that figures to have a scarcity of drama. As the Royals attempt to defend their World Series championship, they are essentially set at seven positions, plus the designated hitter, with some questions looming at both second base and right field. They also appear to have three rotation spots cemented, with new addition Ian Kennedy sliding in behind right-handers Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura.
The final two starting rotation spots, however, could be up for grabs during spring training, which is where the Duffy question comes into play. Where does he fit better?
For much of his career, Duffy has profiled as a left-handed starter with high upside. But with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s as well as an effective curveball, Duffy projects as a potentially dominating bullpen weapon.
“I have a lot of confidence that I can excel in either role,” Duffy said. “And I learned a lot from being out in the pen. And I learned a lot from my failures in the rotation, too.”
Those failures surfaced most prominently in 2015, when he posted a 4.35 ERA in 128 1/3 innings over 24 starts. One year after his best season as a starter, he finished the 2015 campaign in the bullpen, transitioning to the role in mid-September and remaining there for the duration of the postseason. He allowed four earned runs over six appearances.
“Danny Duffy is a guy, as we saw last year, he could be very valuable out of the pen,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He could be very valuable as a starter, too.”
The Royals sought to add depth to their starting rotation during the offseason, adding Kennedy and re-signing Chris Young. They also returned right-hander Kris Medlen, who got his feet wet as a starter last season after returning from a second Tommy John surgery.
Young, Medlen and Duffy all figure to receive a look as starters during spring training, but their roles could also remain fluid. All three pitchers also spent time in the bullpen last season, and Young, 36, profiles a pitcher who could have his innings count monitored in 2016. That means Duffy could find himself beginning the season in one role — before possibly transitioning to another at a later date. For the moment, does not have a public preference.
“Over the last two years,” Duffy said. “I’ve put together some pretty good stretches as a starter, and I know what I’m capable of. But in the same breath, in the bullpen I’ve learned a lot well.
“I’m at the point where, ‘Give me a spot and I’ll do whatever I can to make the team better.’ That’s where I’m at right now.”