FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jarren Duran had his development stalled when the minor league season was canceled because of the pandemic last year.
That, or it was the biggest break of his career.
In a socially distanced interview held in the left-field seats at JetBlue Park Tuesday, Duran reflected on 12 months that could propel him to Fenway Park at some point this season.
The 24-year-old outfielder has shot up the prospect rankings to a point where roster decisions have been made with his future in mind.
It’s practically a tradition to overhype Red Sox prospects. But Duran looks like the real deal.
“He’s legit. Talented player and you can see he belongs here,” J.D. Martinez said after taking batting practice with Duran. “He’s fun to watch.”
Duran has gained 15 pounds (up to 202) since last spring training, and the added strength is evident in batting practice. His confidence has increased, too.
“I’m my biggest humbler,” Duran said. “I probably should hype myself up more. But I’m pretty proud of what I was able to do.”
Duran was in major league spring training when the pandemic hit last year. He returned home to California and worked out with former teammates at Long Beach State.
When the season started back up, the Sox placed Duran with their reserve group in Pawtucket. There weren’t enough players for games, but Duran felt he benefited by facing older pitchers four or five days a week over two months.
“It was pretty competitive,” he said. “They learned what you could hit and would then pitch to your weaknesses. They were trying to dice us up every single day.”
The Red Sox, impressed by what they saw in Pawtucket, further challenged Duran by sending him to play for Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League in December.
Duran started slowly — “I was trying to do too much and got out of who I am,” he said — then was named Most Valuable Player of the league playoffs before helping Caguas to the championship game of the Caribbean Series.
In all, Duran played in 30 games over two months and often was one of the youngest players on the field.
“It had been a long time since I had played against other teams,” Duran said. “Just that part was fun. They love the game there. They were so passionate for baseball. I loved every bit of it. Those guys became like a family.”
Along the way, Duran also was able to spend some time with Sox manager Alex Cora.
“We played it safe because of COVID,” he said. “But it’s always nice to be able to hang out with your manager. Alex is an amazing person, on and off the field. It was great I could do that.”
Nine-time All-Star Yadier Molina joined Caguas for the postseason, adding to the experience.
“He was great, such a nice guy,” Duran said. “There were tons of big leaguers in the series, especially with the Dominican Republic team. It was good for me to play against them, and the fans were amazing. I had a lot of adrenaline.”
Duran was named to the all-tournament team for the Caribbean Series in Mexico after going 9 of 23 with seven runs, three extra-base hits, three stolen bases, and four RBIs as a leadoff hitter in seven games.
Now he’s back at spring training after a little rest.
“I’m going to try and absorb as much knowledge as I can from these guys,” Duran said. “I’m not going to bug the big guys too much, but I have talked to J.D. about hitting a little bit. He’s one of the best hitters in the game — why wouldn’t I?”
His experience in Puerto Rico aside, Duran has yet to play above Double A. Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom believes Triple A is a necessary step in development for prospects, and Duran seems sure to start the season in Worcester.
The Sox have Alex Verdugo in center field, with Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero in the corners. Duran’s potential contributed to the decision not to prioritize bringing back center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
Renfroe is on a one-year deal, and Cordero has been more potential than production to this point in his career. A longer-term solution could have Duran in center with Verdugo in right.
“That’s not my job to decide,” Duran said. “That’s the higher-ups. Wherever they want me, I’m going to go and play my hardest. If they want me in Worcester, I’m going to go there and play my heart out. If they put me in the big leagues, awesome.
“My overall goal this spring is to have fun and be positive. I feel like everything else will fall into place.”