Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the Boston Red Sox 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, at least as things are scheduled right now. Obviously, the lockout may change the timing of the season, and it also means we will likely see more additions of new faces. If need be, we will add some weekend posts to fit any and all additions to the 40-man before Opening Day. You can catch up with every post by following this link. With that, today we cover Jarren Duran.
The Question: Can Jarren Duran get the at bats he needs to figure out major-league pitching?
Jarren Duran has been on an impressive ascension through the Red Sox system after being drafted in the seventh round back in 2018. In his first full season of pro ball in 2019, the outfielder had earned a promotion to Double-A Portland — already his fourth level of professional baseball by that point! — less than a year after being drafted. Even though there was no minor league season in 2020, Duran was invited to the Alternate Site where working with the Alternate Site coaches, he was able to unlock some power at the plate.
In 2021, Duran began at Triple-A Worcester and performed well enough to gain promotion to the majors, where the learning curve was steep. In a small sample of 33 games at the highest level, Duran slashed .215/.241/.336 with two homers and two steals. Although it wasn’t the hot start many Red Sox fans were hoping for, this actually just fits the trend of adjustment Duran has made as he’s moved through the minors.
Knowing the Red Sox are always working to position themselves in win-now mode and how they have handled prospects in the past, it’s worth pondering whether or not they will be able to give Duran the at bats he needs to adjust to major league pitching. It’s also worth pondering if this One Big Question is also a two-parter, the other side being: How long is too long of a leash to give in waiting for those adjustments to occur.
To answer the first part of this question, although Duran mastered Double-A, he didn’t do it in stride and in fact looked quite overmatched over his first month. In his first 111 at bats spanning 29 games at Double-A, he was slashing .216/.281/.261 with only three steals, no homers, and a 32/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Obviously, adjustment periods for prospects as they jump levels are not uncommon, and after this first month of games, Durn turned on the jets to close out the season on fire, hitting .273 and stealing 25 bases.
For the 2020 season, as mentioned before, Duran was invited to the Alternate Site for the Red Sox, where he and other players on the Red Sox 40-man roster (and some off it) were getting tailored coaching, and Duran was being exposed to the most difficult opposition he had seen to that point, even if it wasn’t really changing day-to-day or week-to-week.
Although we don’t have a ton of data from the Alternate Site, what we do know is that he performed very well, adjusting the position of his hands and unlocking previously un-scouted power potential. Duran then took his new skills to the Puerto Rican Winter League where he won MVP. This essentially was his adjustment period for Triple-A. Duran was given tailored tutoring for two and a half months facing the level of competition he was going to be seeing to start the 2021 season, and that allowed him more of a head start once the 2021 season began.
Through the first month and half of the season, Duran was batting .283 with 14 homers and 10 steals, and perhaps just as impressive, had increased his walk rate by four percentage points and kept his strikeout rate exactly in line with his numbers at Double-A showing he had command of the zone. We should mention that power numbers were out of control for everyone in Worcester’s inaugural season, but there was still plenty of positives coming from Duran even with that caveat.
The summation of all this info is, although Duran struggled in his first taste of the majors, given consistent at bats, he’s been able to figure out the zone and produce at the plate at every single level. The question then becomes, as outlined, whether or not the Red Sox give him those consistent at bats he needs to adjust and also frame the team in win-now mode. As the Red Sox are trying to win games, it’s also worth trying to figure out how long the leash should be in letting Duran work through those kinks. While there are many different paths for prospects to take to get to the majors, Duran has consistently demonstrated his path to success is consistent at-bats to feel out the zone and understand the difficulty of the level. So whenever baseball does get going again, one of the most fascinating storylines around the Red Sox will be just what kind of role they have set for Duran, and when.