One of the biggest storylines of this season, and particularly over the last six weeks or so, has been just when the team was going to call up Jarren Duran to make his major-league debut. It’s been a long wait (for most of us anyway), but it’s finally over. We learned Wednesday night that the team was planning on bringing Duran up for their game in the Bronx to start a four-game set against the Yankees. It is obviously huge news, and the hope is that it will add a spark to this lineup and give them some more power and speed in the bottom half. But there is plenty of time to break down the granular gains that Duran will be able to make at the major-league level. For now, the thought that I cannot escape is that the team must be extremely confident in their young outfielder to bring him up right now.
What I had been assuming for some time would happen with Duran is that he was going to be up earlier this month. It’s not just that I had an earlier timeline than what the team had in mind (though that would appear to be part of it as well), but the Red Sox have a history with these sort of things. It’s not a hard and fast rule, of course, but it seems like when they can help it, they’ve brought top prospects up on the west coast. That happened in recent years with both Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers, as well as with Xander Bogaerts way back in 2013. It’s a move that makes sense, as these days prospects come up with a crazy amount of hype as it is. Having them get their feet wet in the majors out west, when there will be fewer eyes on them, is a good way of easing a player into the highest level of competition they’ll ever see.
With Duran, they’re doing the opposite. It’s akin to having most of your kids start driving in a big, empty parking lot, but then having one get their first experience on the road driving through the streets of Boston. Some may call it reckless, or panicked, or just plain stupid. But I look at it and see that you have tremendous confidence in that specific child that nothing will faze him or her. Similarly, I look at the Red Sox not only calling Duran up when they’re in the same time zone as most of their fans, but doing so on the road in New York.
And make no mistake, there is now a huge spotlight on Duran. He’s not being called up to serve as a savior to the lineup, to be fair, but in every other sense there is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on the newest member of Boston’s lineup. He’s going to be standing in the outfield right in front of the group of fans that hates this team the most, who will be screaming at him all night trying to get into his head. He’s joining a team that, while in first place, limped a bit into the break by losing four of their last five.
Perhaps most importantly, he is joining a team that is trying to make the American League East into a race between only two clubs. Looking at the team’s schedule coming up, they do not have a day off for the rest of the month, and the next 15 days in particular is key. Each of their next 15 games will come against either the Yankees or the Blue Jays, who are fourth and third, respectively, in the division. As we sit here on Thursday morning, both teams are eight games behind Boston, meaning this stretch is really their last-ditch effort to stay alive for this divisional race. If the Red Sox come through here and win, say, 10 of these 15 games, they have a good chance of putting these teams out of the race and really only having to focus on the Rays in the division. (And, it should be mentioned, the next series immediately after these 15 games is against Tampa Bay.)
So, yes, there will be a tremendous amount of pressure on Duran immediately upon his call up, and there are really only two options for why the Red Sox would make this move right now, with that in mind. One is that they are desperate, and are willing to risk Duran’s confidence on a big stage in order to get back on track. That doesn’t really resonate with me, though. Nothing about this front office indicates that panic is in their DNA, and even after that relatively rough stretch to close out the first half they’re still in first place. Panicking now would be a large leap from what we’ve seen from them.
And if they’re not panicking, that just means there’s only one explanation for why Duran gets the call during this stretch and not on the west coast like so many other top prospects: The team isn’t afraid at all of his ability to handle the spotlight and the pressure. And really, they shouldn’t be. Duran has proven time and again he can handle whatever is thrown at him, whether it’s big-league-caliber pitching at the Alternate Site last summer, or the high-stakes competition in Puerto Rico and the Carribbean Series over the winter, or spring training when all eyes were on him every single day, or in Worcester when the case has been the same, or with Team USA, when he was arguably the biggest standout on a team that featured former legitimate superstars in this league.
Duran has passed every test thrown at him with flying colors, and now he has his biggest one yet. It’s a departure from how we usually see the Red Sox handle their initial call ups for top prospects, and it’s a major indication that the organization feels as strongly about Duran’s makeup and ability to handle center stage as they do about his actual ability to produce on the field.