The question facing the two most exciting prospects in the Red Sox system was straightforward -- how would Jarren Duran and Triston Casas adjust to the best level of competition either had ever seen?
Feel free to duck -- just to be safe -- because they've answered by unleashing an assault on the parts of New England that lead directly to Boston.
There are hot starts and then there's what Duran is doing at Triple-A Worcester and Casas at Double-A Portland. Duran has homered four times in his last five games, including a 440-foot bomb in Thursday's win over Syracuse. Since an 0-for-11 start, Duran is batting .458 with four home runs, raising his season average to .314 with a 1.086 OPS.
Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Casas also homered on Thursday, one day after launching a pair of long balls and driving in six. He's hitting .313 with a .996 OPS.
If you're a Red Sox fan following the team's unlikely run to first place, the performances on the farm may not be front of mind. But even if Duran remains weeks or months away from helping the big league club, and even if Casas probably won't arrive until next season, they're providing real hope for the future.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom discussed Duran on the eve of the minor league season, but his words equally applied to Casas.
"We're going to learn a lot pretty quickly, but at the end of the day, it's up to the player," he said. "We have every confidence that Jarren is going to go out there and knock that door down, but he'll tell us when he's ready."
Duran arrived as an unheralded seventh-rounder in the 2018 MLB Draft out of Long Beach State and promptly hit .357 in his debut between short-season Lowell and Low-A Greenville. He moved to High-A Salem in 2019 and hit over .400 for nearly two months before being promoted to Double A, where he initially struggled against advanced competition. His game was built on slapping the ball and relying on plus-plus speed. His ceiling seemed fuzzy.
"I kind of like being a non-prospect," Duran said. "People don't expect a lot out of you. Not being a prospect to start, you just work your butt off as hard as you can. Things come your way with hard work."
Everything changed last year when Duran altered his swing path to take advantage of his muscular 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame. He started hitting the ball with authority at the alternate site in Pawtucket and then carried it over to winter ball, where he was named MVP of the Puerto Rican World Series. He continued swinging for the fences in spring training, where he hit .340 with three homers, and now he's doing it at Triple -A.
Thursday's home run came off a 95 mph inside fastball that he turned on effortlessly. It left the bat at over 112 mph. Duran described the process as learning to get out of his own way.
"I just think I'm able to get to that pitch now," Duran said. "Before, it was kind of a struggle for me to get to the inside pitch. Now I have a different path. It's more clean and fluid to get to those pitches."
As for Casas, he's never been a non-prospect. The Red Sox drafted him in the first round of that same 2018 draft out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida, and he has lived up to the hype since. He slammed 20 homers as a teenager in 2019, and now the 6-foot-4, 252-pounder looks like a man.
"He's a good hitter," said manager Alex Cora. "He hasn't played much baseball since he signed, but it's good to see him putting good swings. He knows the game. He knows his swing, he knows what to do with his swing, and this is a guy that, the future's bright, the way we see it, and he's a very important piece of this organization."
When they arrive is up to them, but clearly each has a future in the big leagues. Duran perhaps spoke for them both.
"Playing your game, it will show," he said. "You don't have to go out trying to show you're a well-rounded hitter. If you just keep playing the game you know how, it will show itself."