Duffy shoots up baseball charts

It takes 2 1/2 hours of driving and a full tank of gas for a professional baseball scout based in Los Angeles to reach the Central Coast city of Lompoc, home to one of the hottest pitching prospects in Southern California.

Danny Duffy, a 6-foot-3 left-hander from Cabrillo High who four years ago stood 5-4 and barely hit 70 mph on a radar gun, has transformed himself into a power pitcher with a 94-mph fastball.

"He's going to fly off the board," one scout predicted about Duffy's June draft chances.

In seven of eight starts this season, he has struck out 11 or more batters, including 17 last week against Lompoc and 17 against Santa Ynez on April 26.

Duffy has a 5-2 record and 118 strikeouts and 36 walks in 52 2/3 innings. He has given up only 24 hits and has a 0.53 earned-run average.

Add the fact he has a changeup that comes in 15 mph slower than his fastball, plus a sharp-breaking curveball, and you begin to understand the attention turning his way.

And there's even more to like. His father, Dan, works for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department as an investigator. His mother, Deanna, is a former California Highway Patrol officer who played softball at Goleta Dos Pueblos and throws batting practice to her son.

"That's where I get my arm," Duffy said. "She has a gun."

And the three are Dodgers fanatics. They have a room at home devoted to the ballclub, including wallpaper that's made up of Dodgers ticket stubs and Dodger Stadium seats that they purchased during the stadium renovation. It once took them seven hours to drive from Lompoc to attend a Dodgers home game because of traffic.

"I bleed Dodger blue," Duffy said. "My grandma was crazy about the Dodgers."

Duffy had a Mike Piazza Dodgers jersey made for him as a child.

If the Dodgers don't draft him, he may have to change allegiances, but he knows how to adjust. His pitching coach, Joe Denny, is a big fan of the San Francisco Giants.

"I set him straight," Duffy said.

Duffy's story should be inspiring for athletes who enter high school as small and overlooked.

He was a reserve guard on a 2-16 freshman basketball team.

"I went down to the corner, and it was probably the only shot I could make," he said.

In baseball, he pitched on the freshman team. There was nothing special about him, except that he was left-handed.

As a sophomore, he played junior varsity, grew to 5-8, picked up velocity and showed potential. As a junior, just as his body was changing, he suffered a stress fracture in his back when he stepped in a gopher hole during the opening game of the season.

"It was so lame," he said.

He returned for the second half of league play and finished 1-1 in 20 innings of work.

Last fall, while playing for a scout team, he gained noticeable improvement.

"I got a lot of good instruction," he said. "They really fine-tuned my fundamentals."

Now he has lots of options. He signed with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but his rapid development has professional scouts eager to make a run at him. This week, he's expected to start when Cabrillo (14-11-1) opens the Southern Section Division IV playoffs against host El Segundo (18-12) in a first-round game on Thursday.

Duffy is trying to enjoy every moment of his senior year, knowing he could soon be leaving his friends and family behind.

"It's kind of trying to savor moments because I could be anywhere," he said.

He attended his prom last month and still has his mom throw batting practice while his father catches fly balls.

"He's known where he wants to go and what he needed to do," Dan said. "He doesn't have the phenom attachment to him. He's been a ladder climber, 'What do I need to do to go to the next level?'

"Then his growth spurt kicked in, and his ability matched his growth. Now he's kind of blown up on the scene."

Scouts' expense accounts are getting filled up with Lompoc as the destination, and Duffy makes it a worthwhile trip because he's personable and respectful off the field.

Most of all, he retains a dose of humility, never forgetting those early high school days when he was so small no one would have dared to project him as a pro prospect.

Except he never lost his devotion to practice and always followed the philosophy, "One who stops getting better stops being good."

On June 7, the first day of the amateur draft, it's graduation day at Cabrillo. Imagine what it will be like if Duffy gets to don his cap and gown in the afternoon after being drafted that morning.

"It would be a dream come true," he said.

And if the Dodgers select him, Tom Lasorda would have somebody available to give him a blood transfusion.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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