Right now, Jarren Duran is a guy playing Single-A ball for the Salem Red Sox. His name probably wouldn’t register on most fans’ radars.
However, this time next year, he could be among the most hyped prospects in all of baseball, not just Boston’s farm system.
The 22-year-old, speedy outfielder went 4-for-4 Friday night to raise his season average to a ridiculous .422, by far the best in the minors. In fact, if you take out homers (Duran only has two this season), you could make the case for the left-handed Duran being the best pound-for-pound hitter in the minor leagues, especially now that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is in the show.
So, who is this guy?
The Red Sox drafted Duran in the seventh round of last year’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. The Long Beach State product proceeded to tear the cover off the ball after making his professional debut, and hasn’t stopped since.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Duran hit .348 with two homers, 12 steals and a .941 OPS in 37 games for the Single-A Short Season Lowell Spinners. Once Lowell’s season wrapped up, Duran joined the low-A Greenville Drive, with whom he hit .367 with one homer, 12 steals and an .872 OPS in 30 games. Overall, in 67 minor league games last season, Duran hit .357 with three homers, 24 steals and a .910 OPS in 67 games.
(By the way, OPS is perhaps the truest indicator of overall offensive production. In general, a good-to-great hitter operates somewhere above .800 on a consistent basis. The Mike Trouts and Mookie Betts of the world mess around above 1.000, because they’re lunatics.)
Duran entered spring training with moderate hype. His performance in spring was fine — 4-for-12, one stolen base in seven games — but he nevertheless left Fort Myers ranked somewhere in the No. 9-11 range on most Red Sox prospect rankings.
Since then, Duran has created the kind of buzz that hasn’t been seen since the “Feats of Mookie” days of 2013-14. (OK, It’s not quite to that level, but it’s pretty darn close.)
Through 43 games, Duran is hitting .422 with a 1.049 OPS and .482 on-base percentage. He has two homers, 13 doubles, three triples and 16 stolen bases. Duran also is slugging .566, an impressive number for a player who doesn’t hit a ton of home runs.
The wildly impressive start isn’t just fodder for baseball nerds and bloggers. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski felt inclined to watch the Salem Red Sox in person Friday night.
Now, let’s speculate about Duran’s future.
Boston drafted Duran as a second baseman, his primary position during his three seasons at Long Beach State. But after playing 20 games at second with the Spinners, Duran was moved to the outfield, a position where his superior athleticism can be better utilized. And the position change clearly hasn’t bother him, as he’s registered nine assists and committed just three errors in 88 games in the outfield (58 in center).
It’s in the outfield where Duran has his clearest path to Fenway Park.
The Red Sox likely don’t have any infield openings on the horizon, and again, that’s not where a player like Duran belongs. But the outfield, specifically center field? That’s a different story.
Center at Fenway currently is patrolled by Jackie Bradley Jr., a Gold Glove Award winner and one of the best defenders on Earth. But Bradley is due to become a free agent next winter, and members of the Red Sox’s front office are on record as saying they’ll be unable to sign all of the team’s young stars. With Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts already locked up to long-term deals and Betts’ 2020 free agency looming like an albatross, it’s only wise to look at who might get squeezed out down the road.
Again, we’re not advocating for Bradley’s departure, we’re just identifying Duran’s most logical path to the big leagues.
That brings us to the attribute that could land Duran in the majors sooner, rather than later: his speed.
Take a look at this nugget from Red Sox Stats:
Should the Red Sox be in contention this September, Duran could earn a promotion purely as a situational pinch-runner. Whether the organization would be willing to start his options clock for the sake of a few stolen bases is anyone’s guess, but regardless, having speed in your system is better than being forced to acquire it.
By now, you should know not to get too worked up about prospects. For every Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, there’s a Ryan Kalish, Garin Cecchini and Lars Anderson. Baseball has a funny way of making us all look stupid.
That said, Duran has the kind of skill set that typically leads to high floor. It’s also pretty tough to argue with a .422 batting average on Memorial Day Weekend.
Chances are we won’t see Duran in Boston until late next season, at the earliest. Until then, enjoy the most buzz-worthy thing the Red Sox farm system has given us in years.
Thumbnail photo via Salem Red Sox