Red Sox outfielder Jarren Duran is likely here to stay

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 11: Jarren Duran #40 of the Boston Red Sox follows through on a hit against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning at Fenway Park on August 11, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 11: Jarren Duran #40 of the Boston Red Sox follows through on a hit against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning at Fenway Park on August 11, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /

Red Sox rookie outfielder Jarren Duran has quieted the doubters

The path to starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Sox has been an unconventional one for Jarren Duran.

The former 7th-round draft pick from Long Beach State burst onto the scene as a legitimate prospect in 2019, hitting .387 with a .999 OPS, and 18 stolen bases over 50 games at Hi-A Salem before earning an in-season promotion to AA. His overall offensive production would slip after the promotion at AA Portland, but Duran would continue to wreak havoc on the base paths, stealing another 28 bases (in 36 attempts).

The Red Sox organization, pleased and surprised with Duran’s 2019 production, were excited with his developmental path, and made no secret of their desire to put him to the test in 2020, with the possibility of fast tracking him to the big leagues in a season that was publicly being announced as a rebuilding year. With the Covid Pandemic wiping shortening the 2020 MLB season to a 60 game regular season sprint, while wiping out the entire minor league season, those plans would be put on hold.

Duran impressed in the early part of 2020 Spring Training, before the sport was temporarily shut down because of the pandemic. He would spend time working out and playing simulated games as part of the Red Sox alternate training site in 2020, but was never added to the big league roster. Without a year to evolve his development in the environment of a baseball season, Duran used his time at the alternate site to add lean muscle to his already athletic frame and make adjustments to his swing. He altered his bat path and launch angle to take advantage of his new found power, rather than sticking to his line drive oriented approach.

The results were exactly what he desired. After hitting 5 total home runs in 2019 between class Hi-A and AA, Duran launched 16 homers in his first 48 games at AAA Worcester to start the 2021 season. The added power sent Duran rocketing up the prospect rankings, topping out as a Top 25 overall prospect in the sport before earning his first promotion to the Majors Leagues on July 17th, 2021.

His MLB debut did not meet the expectations that come with being a prized, upper echelon prospect, however. Duran had suffered a back injury in AAA that kept him on the IL from late May into the second week of June. His production coming off the injury did not indicate that he was showing any lingering effects, as he hit .287 with a .998 OPS and 8 home runs for Worcester in the month of June, having been reinstated from the IL on June 8th. He was named to his second consecutive Sirius/XM Futures Game for the sport’s top prospects held All-Star Weekend.

His July production in AAA would be his worst of the season, racking up strikeouts while selling out for power, and it was speculated that the change in approach may have tweaked his previous back injury, though he would miss no further time.

Despite hitting just .154 with 16 strikeouts in 39 at-bats in July at AAA Worcester, Duran got the call to make his MLB debut in Yankee Stadium against All-Star Gerrit Cole. He singled off of Cole in his first MLB at-bat, and finished the game with a walk and a strikeout in 3 plate appearances.

However, the bad habits that Duran brought into July from AAA extended to his time in the big leagues. He’d finish July striking out in a third of his at-bats, hitting just .200 with a .594 OPS for the month. The game changing speed would not be a factor at the big league level, and August brought more of the same as the Red Sox fought to stay in contention for a playoff berth.

In an effort to find an everyday center fielder, the Red Sox continued to stick with Duran despite his struggles, and the team’s loosening grip in the AL Wild Card standings. The club eventually bailed on the experiment, and Duran was optioned back to AAA Worcester on August 24, 2021. His time back in AAA would be short lived, as the Major League roster was ravaged by late season Covid outbreaks, necessitating another promotion for Duran after only 2 games in AAA.

The Covid issues plaguing the roster would soon find their way to Duran. He would be put on the virus list from September 2nd through the 16th, as part of a positive test, and then through contact tracing with a player who tested positive, as it became public that Duran was not vaccinated. Upon activation from the Covid list, Duran would be optioned back to AAA, where he finished out the remainder of the regular season.

The Red Sox acquired infielder Jose Iglesias in the beginning of September, installing him as the everyday second baseman, allowing Kike Hernandez to become the club’s primary centerfielder. The move turned out to be critical in Boston’s postseason run, with Hernandez as the primary center fielder being the Sox best defensive alignment, and Hernandez becoming among the team’s hottest hitters in September and October. Duran would be summoned to the big league roster just once more, added for Game 1 of the ALDS against Tampa as an injury replacement, though he would not record a plate appearance.

Duran would not accumulate the minimum number of MLB plate appearances to graduate from his rookie status, and retained his prospect eligibility heading into the 2022 season.  While still ranked among the game’s Top 100 prospects entering the 2022 season, his poor showing in the big leagues dropped him to No. 85 on Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 list.

Recently praised for his plus power/speed combination, Duran’s focus on the power part of his game, leading to poor pitch selection and high strikeout totals, combined with his advanced age (25), had taken away some of his prospect shine and started to raise questions about his ability to be an impact regular at the MLB level. With the ascension of recent first round picks Nick Yorke and Marcelo Mayer in the organizational and overall prospect rankings, Duran was starting to become an afterthought among the fans and local media.  Once considered an integral part of the franchise’s future, Duran was mentioned more as trade bait than as an everyday outfielder in Boston heading into Spring Training.

For Duran’s part, he seemed not to let the poor showing in his MLB debut and the media chatter get to him. Now fully healthy, and with a redirected focus on the part of his game that put him on the radar as an upper echelon prospect, Duran shined in Spring Training, and made a legitimate case for breaking camp with the big league club before ultimately being optioned to AAA to start the 2022 season. If he took the assignment to Worcester poorly, it did not show up on the field or in the box score to start the 2022 season.

Duran punished AAA pitching to the tune of a .305 batting average and .910 OPS, with 6 home runs and 11 stolen bases before being summoned to Boston on June 15th. With Kike Hernandez on the IL, and limited offensive production from Jackie Bradley, the Sox turned to Duran to provide a spark as the club climbed back into contention. His presence was felt almost immediately.

Though Duran would go hitless with 2 strikeouts in his first start of the season against Oakland on June 15th, he would collect hits in all but 2 of the remaining games in June, highlighted by a 4-for-5 performance against Cleveland with a spectacular catch for the games final out in a series sweep against Guardians.

Perhaps even more impactful was his absence in Toronto for the month’s final series, where Duran’s vaccination status kept him in Boston as the team traveled into Canada to face the Blue Jays. Heading into Toronto on a 7-game winning streak, the Sox dropped 2 of 3 to the Jay’s to finish June.

Duran’s stat line for June was an impressive .333 batting average and .864 OPS, stealing 4 bases while striking out just 10 times in 48 at-bats. Duran announced after the series in Toronto that he’s been vaccinated and will miss no more games in Toronto.

His impressive showing has earned him the leadoff role in the lineup and has him penciled in as the starting center fielder while Hernandez continues to reside on the IL. With Bradley still scuffling at the plate, speculation is that Duran will remain in the lineup upon the return of Hernandez, with Bradley either assuming the 4th outfielder role, or being traded/released as the trade deadline approaches.

While Duran has had a much more successful showing at the MLB level in 2022, he’s still growing into a complete player. As the Sox opened their series with the Yankees on Thursday night, Duran looked lost at times. Cole would strike him out on each of his first 3 at bats, and he’d finish the game 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts. Of course, a workhorse ace like Cole can do that to the most experienced hitters (except Rafael Devers) when he’s at his best.

In the relatively small sample size we have of Jarren Duran in 2022, he’s made adjustments that have prevented any prolonged slumps, and his response to the poor showing in the series opener against New York will likely go a long way in cementing his place at the top of the lineup as the Red Sox set their sights on another October of postseason baseball.

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