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It’s authority, not speed for a change, that has Jarren Duran turning heads

Jarren Duran’s speed has turned heads early in his Red Sox career, but the potential for him to develop some power at the plate could really change his big-league path down the road.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — In 199 career minor league games and just over 800 at-bats, outfielder Jarren Duran has all of eight home runs. Based on that background, one American League scout’s glowing assessment of the 23-year-old came as unexpected.

“It wouldn’t shock me,” said the scout, “if he hit 30 homers in a season in the big leagues.”

Embedded within such a statement is the appeal of spring training. Exhibition games offer exercises in conjecture — treasure maps that often lead surveyors to fool’s gold, but that every once in a while point to something that turns out to be real.


Real or not, Duran is glimmering on the field in the early spring. In four spring games, he’s 5 for 10 with a homer and triple while showing explosiveness on the bases and making some circus catches in the outfield.

A player whose swing was geared for line drives and grounders last year is driving the ball in a different way, one that has allowed onlookers to imagine how his amazing athleticism and physical strength — when combined with a natural ability to get the bat on the ball — might allow him to evolve. He is a player who embodies possibility.

“I don’t think anyone is expecting him to be a 30-home run guy, but you never know,” said Joe Oliver, Duran’s manager last year in Double A Portland. “I don’t think anyone expected Mookie [Betts] to be a 30-home run guy, either — not trying to compare them, but when guys start to get under control in the batter’s box, good things happen . . . It’s going to be an interesting process seeing how he grows up.”

Duran, however, is not thinking about 30 homers or about redefining his game. The hallmark of the 2018 seventh-round pick, participating in his first big league spring training, is his speed. The fifth-ranked Red Sox prospect grades as one of the foremost pure burners in professional baseball.


For most of his life, Duran has been taught to exploit that skill — to spray groundballs that he can turn into infield singles, to shoot liners into the outfield that he can leg into doubles and triples if they’re not directly at a fielder. He’s not trying to clear the fences.

“It is surprising to me every time I hit a home run,” said Duran. “There’s way stronger guys than me — Bobby Dalbec, J.D. Martinez. [Hitting homers is] their job. My job is to get on for those guys so they get all the RBIs. I’ve never thought about being the power guy. I would gladly take the leadoff role for those guys and get on base for them.”

That approach served him remarkably well in High A Salem at the start of 2019, where Duran hit .387/.456/.543 with four homers and 18 steals in 50 games. He looked like a traditional top-of-the-order prototype, getting on base and wreaking havoc once there.

But after a promotion to Portland, Duran hurtled back to earth, hitting .250/.309/.325 with one homer and 28 steals in 82 games. He had a sky-high 50.6 percent groundball rate, and rarely pulled the ball with any authority, often getting beaten by fastballs on the inner half of the plate.

And so, this offseason, he went to work. He wanted to clean up some of the movements in his swing to get in a better position to handle inside pitches.


Alongside Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers, Duran had a few hitting sessions in Southern California with Doug Latta — a swing guru who oversaw Justin Turner’s transformation from a contact hitter to a star, and who also worked at times with Betts in Boston.

Duran worked to improve his balance and timing, particularly on inside pitches.

“I feel like I have more clearance on the inner half,” Duran explained. “I always felt like that was a tough pitch for me. Now, I’m more open and clear. I can get every pitch with one swing.”

Early in camp, he has been getting to some of those pitches with authority, in a way that can create a wide-eyed sense of possibility. From his time with the Dodgers and Red Sox, Hyers has seen great athletes with hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills translate small adjustments to on-field leaps before.

“You don’t hit close to .400 in A-ball without bat-to-ball skills, hand-eye skills, and so many skills it takes,” said Hyers. “He’s not a scrawny guy. He’s got a great engine, we call it, a motor in him. It’s more of a cleaner path to get the barrel there and stay behind it. If he squares up a few more balls, his athleticism puts pressure on the defense.”

Even if Duran doesn’t tap into home run power, his speed makes him a fascinating prospect at a time when the post-Betts Red Sox outfield is in a changing state.


There are few players who can forge jobs as big league regulars without some home run power. Of the 137 players with at least 500 plate appearances last year, only five had fewer than 10 homers.

But the Sox believe Duran’s potential to use his speed to hit for average, drive the ball to the gaps, steal bases, and eventually play above-average outfield defense could make him a big league regular.

“With that kind of speed, if he continues, he should be one of the top defenders,” said interim manager Ron Roenicke. “He does not have to hit for power [to be an everyday player]. What he needs to do is if he’s not hitting for power, he needs to put the ball in play and use that great speed. Any ball that is not right to an outfielder should be a double for him. That creates OPS. It doesn’t have to be homers.”

But if he does add some power . . . well, that’s the sort of possibility to which spring training lends itself.

Regardless, in early games, Duran is the sort of young talent who merits watching.

“The speed is unbelievable. It’s exciting,” said Oliver. “You might see an inside-the-park home run. You might see a guy last year that is on the basepaths and scores from first base on a throwing error from the middle infield. . . . You don’t want to go to the hot dog stand [when he hits] because something special might happen.”


Alex Speier can be reached at Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.