Zolak & Bertrand

Zolak & Bertrand

Zolak & Bertrand

For years, the Red Sox have been waiting for Jarren Duran to establish himself at the big league level, as he carried a skillset that would make any prospect evaluator blush. Comparisons to Jacoby Ellsbury and Grady Sizemore ran wild, but were quickly forgotten about as he took his bumps and bruises in 2021 and 2022. Now, with new mechanics at the plate and a refreshing sense of maturity, it seems like his breakout could be happening at the perfect time for the 2023 Red Sox.

When Adam Duvall went down with a distal left wrist fracture on April 10th against the Tigers, it felt like an injury that could sidetrack the entire season. There was no simple replacement for a bat that had been carrying the Red Sox through 3 series and stabilized the organization’s depth up the middle. Rob Refsnyder is a lethal lefty masher and Raimel Tapia a fine 4th outfielder, but neither offered the upside or spark needed to fill Duvall’s shoes.

Most fans had already written off Duran due to the infamous Tapia inside-the-park grand slam and beefing with Royals fans last August, but it was clear the Red Sox still had hope for the former Top 40 prospect. Despite leaving for the WBC in spring training, Duran was one of the early stars of camp as he constantly smashed the ball the other way with authority. He had raised his hands at the plate and cut down his leg kick significantly, hoping to get away from the approach that got him sent back to AAA last year.

It was clear the front office was impressed, especially after Chaim Bloom went on the Obstructed View: Red Sox podcast and discussed his excitement over Duran’s offseason adjustments on and off the field. It was clear the organization hadn’t given up on the center fielder, despite him being 26 and the fanbase shredding him at every possible opportunity. Plenty of that criticism was earned as well, but seeing Duran not fold spoke to the make-up scouts once praised constantly.

  • Duran's new mechanics

  • Since being recalled on April 17th following a lengthy stretch against left-handed pitching, Duran has done nothing but hit. He’s currently slashing .387/.417/.645/1.062 with a homer (grand slam), 5 doubles, 10 RBI, and 2 stolen bases without being thrown out. Throw in some solid defense in the outfield and he feels like a completely different player in 2023.

    Even last season, when Duran got off to a hot start following his promotion, he wasn’t hitting the ball with authority like he is now. He’s currently rocking a ridiculous 22.2% Barrel% after posting a 7.7% mark last season. It’s even more impressive when realizing the MLB average is only 6.8%.

    Not to mention, Duran’s Max Exit Velocity so far in 2023 is 111.6 MPH, which is a career-best mark for him in the big leagues along with his Average Exit Velocity of 93.9 MPH.

    What’s the biggest sign someone’s mechanics have helped them get their timing back? Constantly shooting the ball up the middle and into CF. Duran is also checking that box off with a 55.6% Straight%, with the MLB average sitting at 37.7%.

    While Duran still needs to work on cutting down strikeouts with a K% 30.6% so far, his BB% is up almost 2 full percentage points compared to last year at 8.3%. He just looks more hitterish at the plate. Like there’s a plan for once, instead of just hoping to send a baseball over the bullpens every at-bat.

  • Duran's grand slam against the Orioles last night

  • Duran’s growth hasn’t only been obvious on the field, but also in the clubhouse and with his teammates. 

    In an extremely vulnerable interview with Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com last season, Duran opened up about his struggles adjusting to the big leagues and dealing with the mental toll it took on him. He didn’t want to bother teammates with his problems, which was understandable for a young player trying not to cause issues or be a burden. Especially after ruffling some feathers following his comments after a win over the Astros on August 1st.

    During last night’s postgame interview following a win over the Orioles, Duran immediately shouted out the teammates that have put an arm around him the last few months. Kiké Hernández, Alex Verdugo, and Justin Turner were the 3 names mentioned. Obviously Hernández and Verdugo have been in the clubhouse for a few years now, but both have taken up much larger leadership roles in 2023, with Turner being at the center of things after signing with the team in December.

    We’ve seen in the past the importance of veterans putting their arm around a younger player and allowing them to make mistakes and grow. Alex Cora was once that veteran with a young Dustin Pedroia, when the entire city was ready to throw him off the Green Monster. Instead, with some patience the Red Sox soon had the AL Rookie of the Year on their hands and a future MVP.

    If anything, one comment from Hernández sticks out to me from this spring about the Dodgers allowing him to thrive. When asked about what the winning culture with the Dodgers was like, he said this: “I, of course, have a very different personality than a lot of people… I like to keep things loose and I’m a little bit out there. I can be really weird. But (Dodgers teammates) let me be myself at all times and that was huge for me. I think something that allowed me to be myself was that they recognized that I knew when it was time to separate trying to be the Kiké that’s funny and the Kiké that has to lock in and play the game.”

    The 2023 Red Sox are a team in transition, AKA it’s a bridge year, but this is the type of attitude necessary when bringing young players along. On top of Duran finding his footing, other guys that struggled last season like Josh Winckowski, Kutter Crawford, and Connor Wong are making an impact. Which is the biggest positive for an organization trying to build a new foundation for the coming years.

  • Duran's postgame comments

  • It took just 9 games, but Duran has played himself into a significant role with the 2023 Red Sox and it could go well beyond that. While his journey may have included a few detours, this front office dreamt about him holding down a spot in the outfield for years to come and it feels like a reality again.

    Prospect/player development isn’t linear. Just look at another former top prospect in Jarred Kelenic breaking out with the Mariners right now, who Duran has been compared to at times due to their similar skillsets. Not everyone is a star from the moment they step in the big leagues.

    This is Duran’s chance to re-write his narrative in Boston after being labeled as another top prospect that fizzled out. He wouldn’t be the first Red Sox player to go from loved, to hated, and back to loved again. If you help win games in this city, it has a way of quickly changing opinions and we’re seeing that already.

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