For years, the Red Sox believed Jarren Duran could be a dynamic game-changer. Now, that vision is being realized.
With Opening Day center fielder Adam Duvall on the injured list, Duran entered the lineup April 17. Since then, he has been one of the best players in baseball, leading the big leagues in average (.372) while ranking in the top 10 in on-base percentage (.420, 10th), slugging (.603, seventh), extra-base hits (14, second), and steals (6, tied for sixth).
Duran’s breathtaking performance has been startling considering what preceded it. By the end of 2022, he was miserable after hitting .221/.283/.363 while looking overwhelmed, his top-prospect status a faded memory.
Often, a season of profound struggle — Duran’s came on the heels of a rough rookie indoctrination in 2021 — would prompt a search to the ends of the earth for counsel: swing instructors, personal trainers, mental health coaches. Indeed, Duran had followed such a course before, traveling the country to work on his swing after 2021.
But last offseason, Duran elected to surround himself with family and friends in Southern California. He wanted to reclaim his sense of self as a player and person.
“I was just trying to be happy,” said Duran. “There was no, ‘I went to this guru. I went to this guru.’ I just was at such a low point that I decided I don’t want to be [in this place] anymore. I really leaned on some friends and family and really leaned on myself.”
Initially, Duran moved home with his family, but he discovered his room had been overtaken with the belongings of his young niece.
“I was in this tiny little room with a princess castle,” he said with a chuckle. “I loved it, but I felt like I was in the dungeon.”
Serendipity struck. Jake Yarger, a college teammate and roommate at Long Beach State, had stayed in touch with Duran. Yarger recognized a friend who’d been swallowed by struggles.
“He wasn’t himself. He needed a confidence boost,” said Yarger. “He works out two times a day, hits all the time. But you can’t be baseball, baseball, baseball 24/7. You need some time to get baseball off your mind. He needed time to sit back, relax, enjoy himself.”
Yarger had an offer. He and his two roommates — Brendan Colson, who’d played against Duran in high school, and Blake Bursic, who’d met Duran a couple times in college — had an open room in a four-bedroom house in Huntington Beach, about a half-mile from the beach. Duran jumped at the offer.
“I went to live with my friends, who would come home every day and laugh, joke around, watch TV,” said Duran. “Being around positive people was a huge step for me.”
The camaraderie was restorative, providing Duran with separation from the game when he wasn’t working out.
Still, the 26-year-old outfielder needed to keep his baseball skills sharp. He had access to the baseball facilities on the Long Beach State campus. Duran would visit Blair Field late in the evening, after the facilities had emptied following team practices.
He needed workout partners. Yarger, who hadn’t played since college, volunteered. Colson and Bursic — neither of whom had played since high school — likewise became intrigued. They started joining Duran in the cages roughly every other day.
“I hadn’t swung a bat in maybe 10 years, 12 years,” said Colson. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go.’ We were just messing around, kind of doing stupid drills, like who could field the hardest ground ball. It was why we started playing baseball — to have fun.”
Duran fed baseballs into a pitching machine pumping 90 m.p.h. heaters at his friends, for whom contact represented a triumph.
“We all take our work so seriously,” said Duran. “Every once in a while, it’s nice to just have fun. They’ve never seen that kind of pitching off a machine, so if they hit it, we’d all go crazy.”
That atmosphere proved transformative. Duran wasn’t getting lost in mechanics. His work was defined chiefly by joy.
“Over time, I could see that J.D. was able to disconnect from having that season,” said Bursic. “He talked a lot about confidence. [The 2022 season] was tough for him, for sure. But I think when we were all together, you could see the confidence grow every day.”
In that freeing environment, it became easier for Duran to make positive changes. In 2021 and 2022, he made extreme changes to his swing — hands held low by his belt, then up above his shoulders, then back down; a large, stiff leg lift before a robotic step forward at times, no stride at others — that seemed to open vulnerabilities in the strike zone.
At Long Beach State, he found a swing that felt closer to his amateur days. He’d send video to Red Sox hitting instructors for feedback, but mostly based his work on his own sense of what was working.
Over time, he arrived at a place where his swing felt natural, athletic, loose — mirroring how he once again felt about baseball and life.
“I really took care of myself this offseason,” said Duran. “I felt the most confident in myself that I’ve been in a long time — not baseball-wise, but just more mentally.”
And with that renewed ability to find joy, Duran is now excelling on the field, much to the delight of his past — and, technically, present — roommates. Duran continues to contribute one-quarter of the rent to the Huntington Beach house, though he’s been absolved of utility bill contributions.
Duran remains part of a daily text chain with Yarger, Bursic, and Colson, periodically getting updates about roommates who forgot to take out the trash or do the dishes — housekeeping items now interrupted by a growing number of texts marveling at what Duran is doing across the country.
“They’re one of the best support systems I have,” said Duran. “They text me every day. We talk every single day, and they’re always telling me that they’re proud of me. It’s always good to have a good group of friends like that.”