Welcome to our 2021 Boston Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2021. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player, describing the season in a sentence, looking at the positives from the year as well as negatives, looking back at our one big question from our season preview and looking ahead to the 2022 season. Today we look at Jarren Duran’s 2021 campaign.
2021 in one sentence
Called up way later than he should’ve been, the Olympian wasn’t given enough time to prove himself before the deadline where outfield depth was a need and couldn’t touch major-league pitching during the playing time he was given.
Duran’s development is a testament to his drive to get better. During the pandemic, the speedy outfielder began lifting, beefed up, and re-tooled his swing to more consistently tap into some newfound power. The result was more home runs hit in 46 games than the rest of his college and pro career to that point combined. The swing change, which we got our first taste of during the 2020 summer and winter, helped Duran jump way up prospect lists, and fans were begging for him to be called up as soon as May when it was evident the big club had holes in the outfield.
When he finally got called up in July, much of the results were of the variety that will be included in the next section, but on the positive side he showed off his impressive wheels, ranking in the 96th percentile in Statcast’s sprint speed. The raw power isn’t that of other recent Red Sox prospects of note or even his peers like Triston Casas, but the swing change gave his prospectdom second life and will allow him the opportunity to be a good major leaguer as soon as next year. With Worcester he hit .258/.357/.516 over 283 plate appearances.
He didn’t hit at all in the majors, which will be the big question with him going forward. Getting 112 plate appearances at the highest level, Duran just struggled to make contact, hitting .215/.241/.336 for a rough 49 wRC+. By that metric, he was more than 50 percent worse than the league-average hitter. There was always going to be an adjustment period for him and it was why, in my opinion, he should’ve been called up sooner instead of Danny Santana.
Now instead of knowing whether or not he can hit major-league pitching — and we don’t know that yet, as nearly every prospect to come up in the last year or so has struggled mightily at first before making the necessary adjustments — and getting his first trip around the league out of the way, we’re left with more questions than answers and they can only be solved by giving him more major-league plate appearances on a team that’s going to have high expectations after overachieving into an ALCS run this past year.
Duran’s going to strike out, but if he can curb it to somewhere around his Triple-A numbers, it’d do him wonders, but that’s easier said than done as a developing hitter, particularly when there are multiple issues causing the strikeouts instead of one isolated issue.
The Big Question
2022 and beyond
Since Duran didn’t look like a major-league hitter in any aspect during his short time up, it’s difficult to project him. He needs reps at the highest level at some point soon, but this is a team that’s aiming to compete after a surprise ALCS run. They think highly enough of him that I doubt they’ll shove him on the bench and stunt his development, but it presents several questions where your answer might change depending on your budget, philosophical bent, or a combination of both.
Your feelings on whether you think Duran can hit pitching at the highest level in 2022 and if he can stay in center field long term might sway whether you put him on your Opening Day roster next season or whether you try and trade him to one of the teams selling off everything this offseason. He lost a year of development like everyone else in 2020, but his age can’t be ignored. There’s a chance that Duran, who turned 25 this past September, doesn’t figure out major-league pitching until he’s 27. We’ve seen how quickly speed can go and that is a large part of his value, so that development pace matters. The margins between failure and success for Duran’s career are very thin right now. If he doesn’t hit out of the gate, it’s harder to justify waiting on a 25 year old to develop than it is a 22 year old.