The wait is over: Jarren Duran is in the big leagues.
So, what now?
Duran, a consensus top three prospect in the Red Sox farm system, reportedly will join Boston on Thursday when it begins a series in New York against the Yankees. The 24-year-old hit .270 with 15 homers and 12 stolen bases in 46 games with the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox.
We know one thing for certain: Duran will play. Or, at least, he’ll be given consistent opportunities from the get-go. What he does with them will dictate how long he remains in the big leagues.
The Red Sox all season have insisted they would not rush Duran to the big leagues, and that they wanted to see growth at the plate and in the field from a player who recently overhauled his swing and is a former second baseman still learning the outfield.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said this during an early July appearance on NBC Sports Boston:
“I think it’s been a steady, upward trajectory for him in Worcester in terms of his comfort in the outfield, his jumps, his ability to read the ball off the bat, and all that adds up to making plays. We know he has the speed and the athleticism to make pretty much any play out there. You guys have seen it, it’s a high bar to be in our outfield right now, so we want to make sure that if he’s ready to come, then he’s ready to contribute there.
” … Offensively, he’s hit for power throughout. I think what’s really stood out as the season’s gone along is how much he’s tightened up the swing and miss. Strikeout rate early was in a pretty bad place, and it’s gotten a lot better. Not that you expect someone to not swing and miss, I think that comes along with the power. That’s part of what his game is going to be and I think he can still be productive with that, but we also need to make sure that he’s got enough of an approach because when you get up to this level you’re going to get picked apart by really, really good players armed with an incredible amount of information.”
Pardon the history lesson, but the context is important. In all likelihood, Duran isn’t being promoted because the Red Sox want to give him a cup of coffee in the majors before sending him back down to Triple-A. They must believe he’s ready to play in the big leagues, and plan to give him consistent, if not every-day, playing time.
Which leaves us with three significant questions that remain unanswered.
When will he play?
Again, we’re fairly confident that Duran will play a lot in the coming days and, perhaps, weeks. Beyond that, we have no idea.
What if he struggles? Sure, the Red Sox could ride through the growing pains, but at a certain point a player needs go back to the minors to work on their game. Obviously, it’s in everyone’s best interest if Duran never sees Worcester again.
Some players, like Jackie Bradley Jr., have worked back into regular big league roles after an early career demotion, but others, like Michael Chavis, struggle to make the necessary adjustments. Ideally, Duran would do what Mookie Betts and Rafael Devers did: arrive in the big leagues and never look back.
Additionally, it will be interesting to monitor how the Red Sox, who love matchups, play the matchup game with Duran. Will they sit him against lefties even though he’s shown the ability to hit left-handers?
Duran needs regular at-bats — plain and simple.
Where will he play?
Duran has been called Boston’s “center fielder of the future,” and that still could be his destiny. But right now, he’s an average-at-best defender who makes up for it with his great athleticism, but nevertheless has a ton of work to do.
So, where does he fit in one of baseball’s best defensive outfields?
After some early season shuffling and struggling, the Red Sox have settled nicely into a left-to-right alignment of Alex Verdugo, Kiké Hernández and Hunter Renfroe, all of whom have provided excellent defense this season.
We’ll get to lineup ramifications in a moment, but for now let’s talk more about Duran’s defense. This season in Worcester, he’s started 37 games in center, two in left and six in right. He’s committed just one error, and possesses a decent arm.
Duran has been groomed as a center fielder, but center at Fenway Park is no joke, nor is right field — both might be the toughest in the game. Are the Red Sox really going to expose him to those spots right away?
We doubt it. At least initially, Duran likely will play left field. Far worse defenders have mastered the Green Monster, after all.
At the expense of whom?
This is the biggest question.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume Verdugo and Renfroe stay healthy and continue performing at or near their current levels. They’re not going anywhere. Renfroe’s right field defense alone might warrant regular starts, regardless of his offensive production.
So, Hernández seemingly would be the odd man out, with Duran handling left, Verdugo sliding over to center and Renfroe staying in right field. And that’s despite Hernández’s legitimately elite defense in center.
Fine. Good. But what happens at second base?
All of this would’ve been easier had Hernández not rebounded from his early season struggles at the plate. He was on the verge of starting more games on the bench than on the diamond. Fortunately for the and the Red Sox, Hernández caught fire before the All-Star break and reclaimed the leadoff spot. Plus, he’s a sparkplug who makes the Red Sox a better team when he’s on the field.
“So, play him every day at second” would be a perfectly logical thing to say if not for Christian Arroyo’s emergence as an impactful player, both at the dish and at second base. When healthy, Arroyo has been a good hitter and even better defender with a flair for the dramatic. He’s done nothing to deserve a decrease in playing time.
Might first base be an option?
Make no mistake: None of these are bad problems to have. There’s a difference between positional redundancy and a surplus of good players who deserve to play. Plus, that all of this is happening because a top prospect has forced his way to the big leagues is a great thing for the Red Sox.
But the aforementioned questions nevertheless will need answering. Performance and injuries likely will dictate what happens next, but Alex Cora still has his work cut out for him.