Among the weirdest parts of the 2020 season was that we didn’t get any minor-league season, and thus an entire season of development was lost for a whole lot of prospects. A few were able to participate in Pawtucket, but for the most part they were left on their own with just Zoom calls with coaches in the organization. Along with the lost development, players down on the farm have also fallen out of consciousness for some fans. That brings us to this series. Over the next two weeks, as we head into an offseason where the Red Sox may be looking to boost their farm system in some areas and trade out of it in others, we’re going to go position-by-position to reacclimate ourselves with the minor-leaguers all across the organization. Today, we look at the crop of center field.
This may have been a fairly controversial opinion a few months ago, and even now there will be some that disagree, but even with a relatively impressive three-headed monster at this position (along with Gilberto Jimenez and Jeisson Rosario), I think Duran is clearly the top guy. I believed that before March spring training, too, for whatever it’s worth, and nothing that’s happened since that point has made his stock go anywhere but up. Of course, he has a clear advantage over Jimenez by virtue of being present in Pawtucket this summer and in major-league camp before baseball paused back in March. Rosario, meanwhile, wasn’t in the organization until September.
As far as Duran the player goes, there is a whole lot to like. The biggest thing is the pure athleticism, as he is the fastest player in the system and possibly the fastest they’ve had since Jacoby Ellsbury. That translates extremely well on the bases where he provides huge value, and it should in the field as well. There are still some rough moments, but remember he was an infielder in college and has just one full season as an outfielder under his belt. We’ve seen in clips from Pawtucket this summer as well as times in spring training that the amount of ground he can cover allows him to make truly spectacular plays. This is another tie back to Ellsbury in my eyes. If you’ll recall, when Ellsbury first came up he made some rough reads and relied on his speed to make up for it. He’d adjust from there and by the time 20102011 rolled around he combined speed with reads to become great out there. Duran can follow a similar path, and by all accounts has the work ethic to get there.
Duran has made the biggest strides since joining the organization at the plate. People in player development worked with the outfielder to fix some issues with his swing they saw in college, and it immediately paid off with huge numbers right out of the gate. He’d continue to move forward without much trouble until hitting Double-A, where he hit his first snag. He didn’t get blistering hot to end 2019, but he did adjust and look solid at Portland to finish that season. Looking forward, I see an above-average hit tool, though I will admit that’s not a consensus. Power had always been his biggest weakness, but further adjustments this summer saw him showing more of that as well.
I will also admit to being higher on Duran than many, but I look at him as a player and I see a guy who can absolutely be a starting center fielder on a good team and even play himself onto a couple All-Star rosters if things break totally right. He’s also not far from the majors, with a potential debut at some point in 2021. It’s the proximity more than anything else that catapults him to the top of this list.
The other two center fielders mentioned above are too high-profile to fit in this category, but the talent pool at this position doesn’t end with those three. In the international amateur signing period back in 2018, Lopez received by far the biggest bonus of the Red Sox class, worth $1.15 million. Still only 18 years old (he’ll turn 19 next May), there is obviously still a long way to go in his development and everything requires a maximum amount of projection. That said, there are reasons to be excited.
Lopez isn’t the kind of player that Duran is in that he doesn’t really draw from a ridiculous pool of athleticism to do his damage. Instead, Lopez is the kind of player with solid tools but, by all accounts, the personality to make the most out of them. While he doesn’t cover the ground Duran or similar players do, Lopez should stick in center because of his instincts in the field. Offensively, he has a great approach, especially considering his young age, and a good hit tool. The power does need to develop on top of it, though. It’s hard to make any sort of specific projection for his future given the age, but he’s a name to keep an eye on the next few years if you’re looking to get in on the ground floor for any prospects in the system.
Others of Note
- Gilberto Jimenez will be the top center fielder for some who evaluate the system, and my disagreement comes more from an affinity for Duran rather than anything to do with Jimenez. The young outfielder is also very athletic, and many see a higher ceiling on the bat. There are still some things to work on, specifically with his learning switch hitting, but he is the type of low-minors player (he should start 2021 in A-Ball) who can enter conversations as a fringe top-100 guy if he has a big season.
- Jeisson Rosario is one of the newest names in the system and, for my money, the most exciting player Boston got at the trade deadline. Like Duran and Jimenez, Rosario is super athletic. He lacks the average power potential of the others, but the former Padres prospect makes up for it with incredible patience and a good hit tool. His trajectory shouldn’t be too far behind Duran’s in terms of timetable to the majors.
- Juan Chacon was the top signee from the most recent international amateur signing class. He’s even younger than Lopez, so obviously there is a ton of lead time with him as well. On top of that, Chacon hasn’t even gotten to make his pro debut yet. That said, he’s very toolsy with good speed and contact skills, and makes him another name to watch in the years to come.