Photo via BostonHerald.com
If you’ve been following the Red Sox minor leagues at all the past few years, you’ve seen the name Jarren Duran pop up a bunch of times. He’s been ripping home runs and showing blazing speed in the Winter Leagues and Spring training, climbing up the Red Sox Top Prospect List, and is talked about consistently on the SoxProspects.com forum, yet he’s not getting a lot of attention from national writers (or most Sox fans). So who exactly is this potential 5-tool player and why is he not quickly climbing the MLB Top 100 prospect list?
Jarren William Duran’s college career was nothing too amazing. For 3 seasons with the Division 1 Long Beach State Dirt Dogs Duran hit a solid but unspectacular .294/.376/.377 with 26 doubles, 10 triples, 3 home runs and 49 stolen bases in 162 total games. That basically gives you a picture of a quality bat with speed but very little power. What doesn’t show up in the box score is that Long Beach State has taken a small ball approach to hitting for their players, encouraging contact and speed over power and strikeouts. While this played very well into Duran’s skill set at the time, it was surprising to see such a large player (he was listed at 6’1” and 170 lbs his freshman year and bulked up to 6’2” 200 lbs his junior year) not tap into some more power. He also was exclusively a second baseman in college, where his speed and athleticism was wasted, but showed a solid glove with good feel on the infield as he didn’t commit a single error his junior year and helped turn 34 double plays.
The Red Sox drafted him in the 7th round of the 2018 draft and signed him for $189,800, which was the expected slot bonus for the 220th overall pick and he was immediately assigned to the NYPL short season Lowell Spinners. It was during this 2018 season, that Duran started to open some eyes and started to be considered a “steal” of the 2018 draft. In 37 games in Lowell, Duran hit .348/.393/.548 with 5 doubles, 10 triples and 12 stolen bases. He was then promoted to Greenville for 30 games where he hit .367/.396/.477 with 9 doubles, 1 triple and another 12 stolen bases. Now those slugging percentages may make it seem like Duran tapped into some power in Pro-ball, but that’s more due to the fact that he used his speed to leg out so many doubles and triples.
In the video above you can see how Duran hits a hard liner to right center that doesn’t even get by the outfielders but with his speed he’s able to leg out a double. For the vast majority of professional baseball players this is a single. What did change for Duran was his overall approach to hitting. Rather than the Long Beach approach of making contact at all costs, the Red Sox organization has an approach of “doing damage” with each swing. So while he was still hitting a lot of ground balls (around 50% of his contact in 2018), they were much harder and he was hitting more hard line drives as well. The combination of increased exit velocity, overall poorer defense in the lower minors, and blazing speed allowed Duran to turn a lot of singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
It was also during the 2018 season that the Red Sox moved him the outfield. He played some 2B and CF with the Lowell Spinners, and moved full time to RF in Greenville. The idea of starting him in RF was the sightlines of RF were similar to second base, thus allowing for an easier transition. And while his routes to the ball were still raw, his plus-plus speed more than made up for any mis-judgements in fly balls.
The 2019 season started just like the 2018 season ended. Starting the year up another level in High A Salem, Duran hit .387/456/.543 with 13 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 50 games. It was after flirting with a .400 average that Duran was promoted to Double-A Portland, where he was finally challenged. But before he got too far into his Portland career, Duran was also added to the 2019 Futures Game. In the showcase for some of MLB’s best prospects Duran came off the bench and went 1 for 2 with a single. Another solid showing though was one of last big highlights before continuing in Double A. While his batting average and OBP were a salvageable .250/.309 his slugging dropped to .325 in 82 games with Portland. He had 11 doubles, 5 triples and 1 home run to go with a still impressive 28 stolen bases. So what happened in Portland? Well first there’s the usual changes from the lower minors to the upper minors that challenge many hitters climbing the ladder. Improved overall defense took away more hits, the pitching finally started to get good and consistent scouting reports on him, and the pressure to perform increases now that you’re 1 or 2 steps away from the big leagues. But looking closely at the numbers, you can see he struggled mightily to start in Portland, and then turned it around. From his Double A debut of June 4th through June 26th he hit .192/.276/.256, but from June 27th through the end of the season (September 2nd), he hit .269/.321/.347. Still not as impressive as his previous stops, but a sign of a player adjusting to the higher levels of pro-ball. Another progression in 2019 was Duran’s full time move to CF, as he played every game there for both Salem and Portland. He of course showed tremendous range, but as with learning any new position it was going to take time for his routes, and positioning to be Major League ready.
The 2020 season was just awful for many reasons, but for Duran specifically it was a season of big changes and improvements that we unfortunately don’t have statistics to show as evidence. What we can clearly see however, is a change in Duran’s batting stance.
In the above video we can see Duran has significantly dropped his hands in an attempt to add more loft and power to his swing. This is the swing that started all of the rave reviews we heard during Duran’s time at the Alternate Training Site. Again, we don’t have any stats to show any improvement, but we do have quite a few reports that really show a change for Duran. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe quoted one AL Scout saying “I wouldn’t be shocked if (Jarren Duran) hits 30 HRs in a season”. Dozens of videos were posted by Red Sox media and the team itself of Duran ripping multiple doubles and home runs at the Alternate Training Site, and quite a few articles were written on the changes that were made and how expectations were rising significantly.
Duran ended 2020 and entered 2021 playing Winter League ball in Puerto Rico for Criollos de Caguas, which just happened to be managed by Red Sox coach Ramon Vazquez. He started slowly, hitting only .236/.386/.273 during the 16 regular season games, but during the Caribbean Series Playoffs he hit .400/.500/.640 with a home run and 3 stolen bases in just 7 games and was named the MVP of the 2020-21 Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente Final Series. Then in the Championship Series Duran went 5-for-15 with two home runs, two doubles, six RBIs, three walks and seven runs in the 4 game sweep.
It’s these Winter League stats that have so many writers, fans, and Sox officials hopeful on the player that Duran can become. It’s doubtful that Duran will play well enough in Spring Training to open the year in the majors. Not so much because of the actual results but the fact that most of the roster is pretty much set, and the team wants Duran to answer a lot of questions with regular AAA at bats. Are the improvements made at the end of 2019 in Double A a show of making adjustments? Did the swing change really improve his power profile? Are the gaudy stats put up in Puerto Rico an aberration or a sign of things to come? The 2021 season is going to be a big one for Duran. As a Sox fan, let’s hope we see him coming up sometime later in the year and see him put his 5-tool potential into use in Centerfield to help the Red Sox move on from some of the homegrown outfielders we’ve lost the last few offseasons.