When Jarren Duran was first drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 draft, I remember having near-immediate excitement, in part because of some positive reviews I’d heard from people who know these things better than me, and in part because he was a speed and contact player, which happens to be my personal favorite profile of a baseball player. As he’s developed through the system his profile has changed, no longer making as much contact as he once did but adding considerably more power. That ability to adjust on the fly and improve in the minors is one of the most important aspects of a prospect’s development in my own personal evaluations, and Duran has checked these boxes.
All of this is to say, despite a tough first taste of big-league ball, that Duran is still perhaps my personal favorite prospects in the system, and I suspect I remain one of the high guys on both his ceiling and how likely he is to approach it. And yet, even with all of that being said, I think there’s probably a pretty good case for him to be traded when the lockout ends and transactions open back up.
To be entirely clear at the top, this is not a post arguing that the Red Sox have to trade Duran this winter. After struggling in the majors last summer I suspect some people will have that belief, but that is not what I am advocating. They certainly don’t need to go into the other side of the lockout hunting a deal to offload Duran out of their farm system. There are still plenty of reasons to hold on to him given his potentially rare combination of speed and power, as well as the fact that nearly every prospect in the league right now is struggling in their initial taste of the majors. The jump to the bigs from Triple-A is perhaps as large as its ever been by many accounts, and that sort of context is crucial to keep in mind with someone like Duran.
But there are a few reasons why I will not be at all surprised if he does end up as part of a package to acquire major-league ready talent some time in the next few months. It starts with the simple idea that, if you want to get something, you have to give something up. That’s the most basic idea in trading, and if Boston is to look to the trade market for an upgrade at a position of weakness — not at all a certainty given the potential fits on the free agent market, but absolutely a possibility — then they’ll have to give something up.
And along those lines, if they are looking near the top of the trade market for difference-making talent with multiple years of control, they are going to have to deal from their top tier of prospects. Depending on how you define your tiers, Duran is either part of that group or part of the second tier, and either way he is a top 100 prospect in the game, and potentially top 50. Boston’s farm system is deeper than it has been in a few years, both in terms of overall depth and top-level talent, so if they were needing to look for a headlining prospect, they have some options.
This calculus is the biggest reason Duran could be shipped out this winter. Right now, the Red Sox likely have four prospects who will get top 100 love in Duran, Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer, and Nick Yorke. Without one of those four as a lead in a package, they can get a trade done, but for more of a role player than an impact talent. However, if they were targeting some sort of impact talent, at least one of those four would have to be on the way out, and Duran is the one who is easiest to trade of that group.
There is clearly some subjectivity to this, but a lot of the conversation comes down to positional value. Duran is a center fielder at this point, and while I personally remain confident he will be able to stick at that spot, even that is not a foregone conclusion. A second baseman throughout his college career, he is still adjusting to life on the grass and developing the instincts needed for the outfield is not something that will always happen. But even if he does, the defensive value of Mayer, who is likely to stick at shortstop, will always overvalue that. A second baseman like Yorke is probably on a more even level, but in my mind Yorke is more likely to stick at second base than Duran is in center. Casas is at the lowest-valued position, but his bat is at high enough level compared to Duran (and the other two, for that matter) that he still has to rank ahead.
The Red Sox can also look to multiple avenues for a potential long-term replacement in center field, too. They could fill that hole this offseason in free agency, looking at a free agent like Seiya Suzuki or a trade target like Bryan Reynolds, among others. They could also look for short-term replacements, waiting for some of their talented outfielders in the lower minors to hopefully pan out. The latter would certainly be a risky path as there’s far from a guarantee players like Gilberto Jimenez and Miguel Bleis will pan out (and the latter is perhaps a half-decade away anyway), but it’s viable.
And then there is the performance from last season. Like I said, for many reasons including the current degree of jump from Triple-A to the majors, it would be silly to dismiss Duran as a future impact player based on a small sample struggle in the majors. That being said, there are valid reasons for concern from a broader viewpoint. For one thing, a lot of the strides he’s made as a prospect were during a time in which there was no real minor-league action to test it. That’s obviously out of his control, and he did perform very well in environments like winter ball and the alternate site in 2020, but it’s not affiliated game action. And even his success in the minors last season was at least partially inflated by playing his home games in Worcester, which laughably skewed towards hitters. A lot of Duran’s talent is still theoretical in some sense.
I still believe Duran is an easy top 100 prospect in baseball, a close-to-the-majors player whose speed gives him something of a decent floor as a bench player, and also the potential for a special player. From a strictly fan perspective who has been a big fan of his throughout his tenure in the organization, I would like to see him stay in the organization and hopefully carve out a real role this coming summer. That said, if the Red Sox want to target big-time talent on the trade market, they’ll have to give up something big to get it. Just based on the other top-level talent around him in the organization, there’s a good case to be made that Duran should be the preferred candidate to be dealt in any of those discussions.