Last summer, Jarren Duran offered hope to the Red Sox in a dismal, pandemic-compressed season. While the big league team struggled to a last-place finish, Duran put on a show at McCoy Stadium.
In 2019, he hit .303/.367/.408 with 46 steals in High-A and Double-A. But while he showed incredible athleticism and speed, along with an all-fields line drive stroke to hit for average, he displayed little power, hitting just five homers in 578 plate appearances.
But at the Alt Site last summer, Duran tapped into new reservoirs of power thanks to a swing adjustment. He delivered the farewell fireworks at McCoy, launching eight homers in a couple months of intrasquad games.
But it was unclear how to evaluate the performance. Would his newfound power — the product of a change he made after 2019 to lower his hands in order to create a cleaner path to the ball — translate into games when he wasn’t just facing his own teammates?
Nine games into the inaugural season of the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox, Duran has provided a compelling start of an answer. In 40 plate appearances, he’s crushed four homers, including two in the opening of Polar Park on Tuesday, and a 440-foot smash off a 95 MPH fastball on Wednesday. The most recent blast was precisely the type that would have been almost impossible in 2019.
“I just think I’m able to get to that pitch now,” said Duran. “Before, it was kind of a struggle for me to get to the inside pitch. Now I have a different path. It’s more clean and fluid to get to those pitches.”
Through nine games, Duran is hitting .314/.400/.686 with those four homers. He also stole his first base of the season on Thursday. After an 0-for-11 start in the season’s first three games, he’s 11-for-24 with a .458/.536/1.000 line in his most recent six games.
His performance since last summer has put him very much on the prospect map, a status with which the 24-year-old — an unheralded seventh-rounder in the 2018 draft — admitted some discomfort.
“I kind of like being a non-prospect. People don’t expect a lot out of you,” said Duran. “Not being a prospect to start, you just work your butt off as much as you can and then things come your way with hard work. I just worked hard, did the right things, play hard, do what I need to do, and things go your way.”
As much as Duran’s performance is generating excitement and anticipation, it seems unlikely that a callup is imminent — even with the Sox outfield having struggled to this point in the season.
He still has work to do defensively, as his outfield play has been uneven. Moreover, the Sox want Duran not just to show he can handle Triple-A pitching but to demonstrate that he can sustain his performance when facing the level for a second and perhaps third time — requiring him to adapt and adjust his approach as pitchers attack him in different ways.
That approach, they hope, will position him not just to reach the big leagues as a fill-in but to stay up whenever he is promoted to the big leagues. It shouldn’t be considered a shock if he remains in the minors past this year’s trade deadline. (In the last decade, the Sox waited until roughly the deadline or after to call up Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi, while calling up Rafael Devers and Bobby Dalbec just before it.)
Nonetheless, the talent is undeniable. Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has said that Duran will tell the Sox when he’s ready for the big leagues. Duran seems happy to let his play make that statement.
“You don’t have to go out and try to show you’re a well-rounded hitter,” said Duran. “If you just keep playing the game the way you know how, it’ll show itself.