The Red Sox aren’t giving up on Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe, but they do need backup plans beyond Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez, both of whom ideally would roam all over the diamond rather than parking in a corner outfield spot.
Enter: Jarren Duran — maybe.
The top prospect, viewed by many as Boston’s center fielder of the future, appeared in left field during Monday’s simulated game at the Red Sox alternate training site in Worcester, Mass. Duran, drafted in 2018 as a second baseman out of Long Beach State, hasn’t played in left as a professional outside of seven Arizona Fall League appearances in 2019 and six spring training innings this year. In fact, his only corner outfield experience with a Red Sox affiliate came in 2018, when he made 30 starts in right field for the Single-A Greenville Drive.
So, what gives?
Duran’s work in left field coincides with extended struggles from Cordero, who has started 14 of 23 games in left, and Renfroe, who has made 15 starts in right field. Cordero, acquired in the Andrew Benintendi trade, is hitting .200 with 23 strikeouts and zero home runs in 49 plate appearances, while Renfroe, who averaged 28 homers from 2017 through 2019, has only one this season to go along with 16 strikeouts and a .176 batting average.
Both players have the ability to perform at a higher level, but the Red Sox won’t wait forever. Plus, none of this should come as a surprise: Boston’s outfield entered this season with a relatively high ceiling accompanied by a more dramatically low floor.
But don’t expect the Red Sox to rush Duran into the shadow of the Green Monster. More than anything, his exposure to left in Worcester reflects an effort to give Boston an emergency option.
“If there is an opportunity for (Duran) to get to the big leagues at some point this season or in the future, if he gets put in left field at Fenway Park, we don’t want that to be the first time he’s playing left field in a professional baseball game,” Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham recently told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. “We want players to feel comfortable in an uncomfortable spot and to prepare guys for the potential for there to be different things that happen, whether it be a transaction or an injury. The more versatile the player, the better chance they have of impacting the big league club.”
Ideally, Duran’s big league promotion will remain further down the road. The 24-year-old only has 82 Double-A games under his belt, with his first Triple-A game action set for May 4, when the WooSox begin their new season.
“It’s some of the smaller things we’re working on to help push their games to the next level so it’s not just a short-term callup,” Abraham told Speier. “To put a timeline on (when a player is big league-ready) is certainly hard, but I think the consistent work, the ability to get reps every day and be able to make adjustments, gain consistency in Triple A is so important before a guy gets that opportunity.”
Duran, who was excellent in Fort Myers (.340 with three homers), isn’t on the cusp of the big leagues because of his defense. Rather, he’s a lightning-fast athlete whose strength and recent swing change have transformed him from a speedy contact hitter into a potential impact player at the plate. However, he did strike out 19 times in 49 spring plate appearances and likely would benefit from further refining his swing against Triple-A pitching. His defense in center also needs plenty of work.
But, should Boston’s corner outfield woes continue, Duran’s development might be forced off an ideal timeline. If the Red Sox have to make that call, they want him to be ready.