Even after a poor weekend in Kansas City where the Red Sox followed up a three-game losing streak by dropping two of three against a reeling Royals club, they remain in first place. The Rays are having a rough time right now, and it has allowed Boston to climb back atop the division, leading by a half-game as they get set to face off against Tampa for a three-game set starting on Tuesday. Given where the team is right now, and particularly where the offense has generally been this season as one of the better groups in the game, it’s not unreasonable to think the team can, and perhaps should, just continue the way they’ve been rolling. It’s gotten them that far.
That would be a mistake, though. The baseball season is a long one with a lot of ebbs and flows, and the job of the front office, and the coaching staff to an extent, is to make sure they are constantly improving and putting out the best version of the team as is possible at any given time. This is particularly true in a race like we’re seeing in the division with not only the Rays but the suddenly-hot Yankees and the talented Blue Jays looking to make a run. Throw in the wildcard contenders in the American League, and there is just not a lot of room for error, and the importance of that constant pursuit of improvement is heightened even more. And with that in mind, I think we’ve officially reached the point where it’s time to just get Jarren Duran up in the majors.
Duran has, as likely everyone reading this knows, seen his stock rise exponentially since the Alternate Site last summer where he started showing off newfound power. He’s only continued to ride that helium, even being named a top 30 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America recently. It’s not just good reports from Alternate Site action and things like that either, as he is putting up numbers in Worcester against Triple-A pitching as well. Through 145 plate appearances he is hitting .286/.379/.627 with 12 homers, a 50-homer pace for 600 plate appearances. This also does not include his strong run with Team USA in Olympic qualifying nor his performance this winter in the Caribbean Series.
Now, it should go without saying that numbers at Triple-A are not automatically going to transfer to the majors. We see players all the time put up numbers in the minors that are not seen as major-league players, never mind potential stars. And there are some valid reasons to be concerned about Duran coming to the majors right now.
The first one you’ll often hear is with his defense, as his outfield instincts are still developing after spending his college days on the dirt at second base. That’s not nothing, but every indication is that he’s improving and is fine, albeit not great, out there now. Plus, the Red Sox have enough center field options between Alex Verdugo and Kiké Hernández that they can get Duran his time in left field, making for a much easier adjustment. We saw the Red Sox do the same thing with Jacoby Ellsbury way back when he debuted, and it seemed like a good approach for everyone involved.
The other issue for Duran comes at the plate with his strikeouts. As he’s developed more power over the last 18 months or so, he has also predictably started whiffing a lot more. Right now he’s striking out 24 percent of the time in Triple-A, and while that rate is far from terrible in today’s era, particularly with his power, one should probably expect that to spike in his first taste against major-league pitching. But again, the power is there. We know that batters in today’s game can succeed while striking out, and if that jumped up a couple of percentage points it wouldn’t necessarily be detrimental to Duran’s game, nor his confidence. Boston currently has five players on the active roster with a strikeout rate over 24 percent, so it’s hard for me to believe this is such a big deal for Duran when someone like Bobby Dalbec continues to get playing time. (And, to be fair, he’s making Alex Cora look smart for that after this past weekend.)
And then there’s the service time component to this, but that doesn’t really come into play at this point unless you’re planning on holding him back until a couple of weeks into the 2022 season. And, well, if that’s how you feel we are on such different wavelengths this conversation is probably not worth having.
To me, the issues that bringing Duran up to Boston would solve outweigh the potential drawbacks to bringing him up. For example, perhaps Duran would be able to provide a little bit of punch in a leadoff spot that has been sorely lacking this year. It would be aggressive to put him there right away and that’s probably not how I’d approach it — putting Alex Verdugo there would obviously be the easiest solution, but it’s clear they don’t want to do that for whatever reason — but Cora has been aggressive with putting guys in that leadoff spot right after being called up. It’s different for guys like Michael Chavis and Danny Santana who had major-league experience, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Cora did the same with Duran.
And even if he doesn’t hit leadoff, he could still help out by making an impact in the bottom-third of the lineup, which has also been an issue. The leadoff spot’s woes deservedly get more scorn, but the inconsistencies at the bottom of the lineup could be shored up as well. Duran could be just the spark that part of the lineup needs.
And perhaps the biggest thing that he would add to the roster, beyond the pure talent and potential spark for the overall team, is that he is a left-handed bat. The Red Sox have found themselves with a very righty-heavy supporting cast this season, with even the switch hitters like Marwin Gonzalez and Santana either having even splits or being much better hitting from the right side. They haven’t really had that left-handed option, and Duran would be able to provide that and even out the roster just a little bit more. (As a slight aside, Franchy Cordero would also help here and if they don’t call up Duran I wouldn’t mind a Cordero call-up as a consolation prize.)
There is a fair question to be asked about timing because exactly when and where you call up your best prospects is an important part of the calculus. In the past, the Red Sox have often liked to make that call up during a west coast trip, and they actually do have one coming up. This week, the Red Sox are on the east coast playing huge games against the Rays and Yankees. It’s reasonable to worry about the kind of pressure that would put on a rookie. The counter to that would be, firstly, that Duran has never shown any indication that he would not thrive under that pressure. And secondly, the Rays are calling up the top prospect in baseball in Wander Franco on Tuesday. They are not equal players, to be clear — Franco has been baseball’s best prospect for years now — but it shows that good organizations will make a move and not worry about this.
To me, it just makes too much sense not to do it now. I know there are risks, and there is certainly no guarantee that Duran comes up and thrives, providing the spark for which they are searching outside of the core of the lineup. But right now, the Red Sox are in a tight race where every win matters, especially in these divisional matchups. Duran may not be 100 percent ready, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to be part of the best 26-man mix on the roster, and you’ll have a very hard time convincing me he is not a better part of that mix than Santana, or Matt Andriese, or Yacksel Ríos. We’ve waited long enough, and Duran has proven himself enough. Get him up in Boston.