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Jarren Duran will have to earn a role in 2021, and that could be a good thing

Nothing wrong with having to work your way up.

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Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox roster situation in the aftermath of the trade sending Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers is a fascinating one, and also it happens to be just about the only thing to talk about these days given the transaction freeze and lockout. And certainly, we have done plenty of talking about the outfield in that aftermath. The trade itself was fairly interesting, but what’s been most fun and time consuming has been figuring out the next domino to fall and how they replace Renfroe in the short-term. In plotting out that potential path, though, it seems that the Jarren Duran of it all has fallen by the wayside.

To be perfectly clear, it’s not as though this trade displaced the outfield prospect in a short-term sense. It was almost certainly never part of a plan to hand him a big role to start 2022 after his struggles in the majors last summer. Nobody is expecting them to open up a roster spot for Duran moving forward. However, this move has made it all the more likely that the team will add a new long-term plan somewhere in the outfield this winter, and with Alex Verdugo taking up a spot as well the path will be undeniably more difficult for Duran to get that starting role in the near future.

It’s not an impossibility, though, and having that challenge in front of him can be a very good thing. Coming into last season, many regular readers will remember that I was among the highest on Duran, and I think I probably remain in that space. I’m still a believer in the talent for reasons we’ll get to in a minute, and still believe we’re talking about a future everyday player who should compete for a few All-Star bids over his career. But again, there is no problem with him having to prove himself to get that chance in Boston, and his presence certainly shouldn’t stand in the way of a big addition in the outfield when transactions open back up.

Duran spent the first half of 2021 down in Worcester and hitting extremely well before the Red Sox brought him up to the majors in August for his first taste of competition at the highest level. It did not go well in the majors. Getting 112 plate appearances over the second half, the outfielder slashed .215/.241/.336 and was just generally a mess at the plate. His strikeout rate was over 35 percent while his walk rate came in under four percent, and the power was also below-average. It’s not what you want, and he’s certainly going to need to improve both laying off bad pitches and making contact on good pitches to hit if he’s going to stick. After that kind of performance, even in a small sample, it’s an easy call to give him more seasoning before handing him a big role.

But it’s also extremely not time to bury him, either. Duran is going to be in his age-25 season next year, and while that’s not super young for a prospect it’s also way too young to give up on a player. Bobby Dalbec, for example, was in his age-26 season in 2021. We’re still talking about a player who performed very well at Triple-A and has the kind of combination of game-changing speed and plus power that is rare to see in conjunction.

And speaking of Dalbec, we know that the jump from Triple-A to the majors is as larger as it’s ever been, with hitters in particular struggling with that jump. Some of the best prospects in baseball like Wander Franco, Andrew Vaughn, and Jarred Kelenic have also struggled with this jump, but after some time did make the adjustment. That’s certainly not to say Duran is guaranteed to turn things around, but we have enough examples of players taking a while to make this jump that we shouldn’t just give up on someone with Duran’s skillset after 112 plate appearances.

Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Which brings us back to where he’ll have to prove it and then have his chances to play at the highest level again. The key is going to be having a good showing in spring training (whenever that may be) and then to start the year in Triple-A. Bouncing back from slumps is a key part of a major-leaguer’s career, and Duran will have to show right away he’s putting the back half of 2021 behind him.

If he does, the opportunities will be there. Injuries can always open up playing time for depth players, and even without injuries Duran can find himself playing time other ways, whether it be replacing Jackie Bradley Jr. if the latter can’t find himself again at the plate, or maybe Christian Arroyo doesn’t work out at second base and Enrique Hernández moves back to the dirt. If Duran hits, they’ll find a way to get him at bats.

Basically, the ball is back in Duran’s court right now and it’s going to be on him to get back to the majors and another chance to show he is indeed a top prospect in this organization and a future stalwart in the outfield. For the team’s part, they should go into the season without needing much of anything from Duran, but also leaving open that sliver of opportunity to get him at bats if and when he proves he deserves them.

Sometimes, the best thing for a player’s development is a step back and a reminder that this isn’t easy. That’s not to say Duran got complacent at all, but just that we all need that extra motivation every once in a while. If he takes hold of that, and everything we know about his makeup suggests he will, the Red Sox will give him another chance to reassert himself against top-level pitching.