Jarren Duran has been a professional baseball player for just over two years, and in that rather brief period of time has emerged as one of the top outfield prospects in the Red Sox farm system.
Coming off his first full minor-league season in which he slashed .303/.367/.408 with 212 total bases, 90 runs scored and 46 stolen bases in 132 games between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2019, the California native received an invite to major-league spring training earlier this year and impressed there as well.
When the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced major-league clubs to shut down their spring training facilities in March and Minor League Baseball to cancel its season altogether in June, one may have thought prospects like Duran may have lost a step in the development process.
That did not happen, however, as the soon-to-be 24-year-old picked up where he left off in Fort Myers by showing out even more at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket.
When speaking with reporters via Zoom on Monday, Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett acknowledged just how exciting Duran has been to watch over the last month-plus.
“Jarren’s made great progress,” Crockett said. “One of the reasons we wanted to bring him in here is because he’s a guy we obviously thought really highly of from the get-go. He made fast progress to get to Double-A in his first full season. And then in the offseason, he undertook a swing change, I think, to make him even better. What we saw in spring training 1.0 was really encouraging and showed great progress. For us, it was important for us to continue to see that and to continue to help him take those strides forward. I think he’s definitely done that.”
Duran himself addressed the changes he made during this past offseason and when speaking to reporters last Friday.
“Working on my swing with Lance everyday here, Lance Zawadzki, and I worked with Doug Latta a little bit,” the outfielder said via a Zoom call. “Just my swing path and cleaning things up, making things much simpler than they used to be, and just having a simple approach. I kind of owe it to those guys because I come here everyday and I grind it out with Lance everyday. Everyday’s a struggle to find your swing. You can go home, not play baseball for a day, and it feels like you haven’t swung in two weeks.”
On his new-and-improved swing path that has resulted in somewhat of a power surge in Pawtucket, Duran attributed that to just how direct his approach at the plate is now.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say lowering my hands,” the Long Beach State product added. “I would just say I have a better path. I have more of a line to the ball and extension through the ball and I’m not coming through the zone and getting outs super quickly. I think lowering my hands helps because my hands always come up. If I can keep them low, they’re just naturally going to come up for me. But, I think just keeping a direct path has really been my success.”
As Duran mentions, making a change that disrupts old habits or routines can be extremely frustrating, but given how much improvement the 2018 seventh-round draft pick has shown this year in light of those changes, it may very well be a sign that there are even more encouraging things to come. Crockett brought this point up, or at least the opening part of it, on Monday.
“Anytime you’re doing something that’s a little bit new or different than what you were doing in the past, it takes a number of reps to get that ingrained, to become natural,” he said. But, I think anything from a mechanical standpoint, it certainly comes down to reps and refining it and continuing to really hone in on exactly what’s going to be the right fit for the individual.”
With the help of Zawadzki, a former minor-leaguer-turned-assistant hitting coach for the Portland Sea Dogs out of Framingham, and Latta, a renowned hitting instructor based in southern California, Duran may have unlocked some potential that could make him an even better prospect than he already was.
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is certainly impressed with what Duran has to offer, saying last Wednesday that “he’s spent a lot of time working on his body from a physical standpoint and that’s looked great.”
All that being said, don’t expect a major-league call-up for Duran anytime soon even though outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar are both on expiring contracts. For one, Duran is not on Boston’s 40-man roster, which is not too huge of a deal but is still a factor nonetheless.
Secondly, as Bloom puts it, “one of the worst things you can do, especially if you’re doing it because you’re unsatisfied with the on-field product at the big-league level or you want to get a jolt…sometimes the worst thing you can do is take shortcuts in a player’s development. That can lead to short-term results that are not which you want and it can also lead to long-term difficulties.”