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Tomase: Dynamic Jarren Duran suddenly looks like a keeper

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In a game where top prospects have opportunities handed to them on reputation more than performance, it's refreshing to see Jarren Duran shut up and force his way into the Red Sox lineup.

Duran had every reason to gripe when the Red Sox sent him to Triple-A Worcester this spring. He had just hit .333 in Fort Myers while displaying game-changing speed, even scoring from second on a sacrifice fly. A consensus top-35 prospect a year earlier, Duran found himself in limbo, a 25-year-old whose path to regular playing time was blocked by veteran outfielders Kiké Hernández, Alex Verdugo, and Jackie Bradley Jr.

Duran didn't mope at Triple-A. He told anyone who'd listen that he understood the decision and just wanted to be ready if the Red Sox needed him. He hit .305 with a .910 OPS in 43 games and made a couple of cameos in Boston, sticking around just long enough to lead the team in triples before booking a return ticket to Central Mass.

If he wanted to complain, he certainly could've done so earlier this month when Hernández went on the injured list and the Red Sox summoned infielder Jonathan Arauz to replace him. Arauz lasted barely a day before being designated for assignment and joining the Orioles. Duran couldn't earn a roster spot over that guy?

At this point, Duran could've fairly wondered if he'd end up being bait come the Aug. 2 trade deadline. With his 26th birthday looming in September, the time to establish himself as more than a 4-A player was now.

 

Real opportunity finally came 10 days ago, and Duran has quite literally run with it.

In Saturday's 4-2 victory over the Guardians, Duran went 4 for 5 with a double and a key RBI. He also made a running catch in center to end it, leaving the field with a giant smile on his face and even more confidence that he belongs here.

"He's been really good -- the dynamic player we envisioned," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Cleveland. "Running the bases, being an athlete, hitting the ball the other way. Not trying to do too much, and he played good defense too."

Drafted in the seventh round in 2018 out of Long Beach State as a speedy second baseman, Duran converted to outfield with the Red Sox and opened eyes by flirting with .400 in his debut at Low-A Greenville before growing into his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame. His father, Octavio, is a chiseled weight lifter, and Duran clearly inherited those genes.

At some point, his physique figured to produce power and the home runs came last year, when he blasted 16 at Worcester and a couple more in a disappointing big league debut. But Duran's game was never really about the long ball, and the habits he changed to start launching ultimately worked against him.

He arrived in Fort Myers vowing to get back to the line drive hitter who allows his speed to play, and he also said he wanted to have more fun, rather than trying to keep a low profile as a yes-sir, no-sir rookie.

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He's clearly having a blast, hitting .319 with an .862 OPS and perhaps most crucially, no homers in the big leagues and only six at Worcester. On Saturday, he roped a double the other way off the base of the left field wall, chopped two singles through the left side, and then lined an RBI single up the middle past a drawn-in infield in the ninth.

"This is what we want," Cora told reporters. "We want a guy that can go the other way, hitting line drives, putting the ball in play and putting pressure on the opposition. That's the best version of him."

Duran agrees.

"It's been fun, running the bases," he told reporters, including Julian McWilliams of the Boston Globe. "I have coach Rámon Vázquez in my ear who is the best at first base, man, he's got me all this information over there. It's awesome."

Added Duran: "I'm having fun, getting on for the big guys, and running like crazy on the bases."

While portions of his game remain a work in progress -- he was thrown out at third being too aggressive on a ball in the dirt on Saturday, and his speed is thus far having to make up for poor reads in the outfield -- the total picture is easy to like. Duran's getting on base and then making things happen. The next step will be encountering whatever adjustments opposing pitchers make, presumably up in the zone.

 

Not even two weeks ago, we wondered if Duran's days in Boston were numbered. But given the opportunity, he is stating a forceful case for staying put.