RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Timing seems right to roll the dice with Duran

RED SOX INSIDER

Almost exactly seven years ago, a Red Sox prospect completed a meteoric rise from fifth-round pick to top prospect when he received a call to pack his bags, hop a plane, and head to New York -- thus beginning the Mookie Betts era in Boston.

That was 2014 and the Red Sox have no regrets. They can only hope history is about to repeat itself.

Jarren Duran may not have looked like top prospect material when the Red Sox chose him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, but he has turned himself into one, particularly over the last year.

Now he'll get a chance to impact a pennant race with the news -- first reported by Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram and confirmed by NBC Sports Boston -- that he'll join the Red Sox in New York to start the second half against the Yankees.

The timing makes sense. With the July 30 trade deadline looming, the Red Sox have two weeks to evaluate whether the 24-year-old Duran can contribute. If so, they can cross a left-handed hitting outfielder off their wish list. If not, there's still time to make a move.

What's beyond question is the excitement that Duran's arrival will bring to a club not lacking in that department during this surprising run atop the American League East.

 

Duran has transformed himself from slap-hitting speedster to legitimate power threat over the last year, and he arrives in Boston after hitting .270 with 15 home runs and 32 RBIs at Triple-A Worcester. That comes on the heels of an MVP performance in the Puerto Rican winter league World Series, and overlaps with a strong showing in Olympic qualifying, where he hit .368 with a double and a triple.

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He was left off Team USA's roster for the Tokyo Games only because the Red Sox knew they'd be summoning him to the big leagues sometime this month. It turns out that time is now.

The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder is a left-handed hitter with elite speed and the potential to be an everyday center fielder. Because he was drafted out of college and lost a year to the pandemic, he's not as young as fans might think. He turns 25 in September, one month ahead of teammate and five-year veteran Rafael Devers.

Devers might provide a roadmap to how Duran will be used. It's easy to forget now, but during the championship season of 2018, manager Alex Cora effectively platooned the left-handed Devers at third with utilityman Eduardo Nunez. Nearly three-quarters of Devers' 490 plate appearances came against right-handed pitching, and Cora continued the arrangement in the postseason, with Devers starting eight of 14 games and driving in nine runs.

Center field has been manned more than ably by utilityman Kiké Hernández this season -- in fact, the fearless high-flyer has provided a regular highlight reel of diving catches and laser-guided throws. Hernández could very easily remain the right-handed half of a platoon in center, shifting to second base when Duran plays.

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That would force breakout candidate Christian Arroyo to the bench -- unless the versatile infielder can pick up a first baseman's mitt and perhaps move the underperforming Bobby Dalbec to the bench. There's also the matter of Duran hitting better against lefties than righties throughout his minor league career (.321 vs. .248 this year). In any event, it's Cora's job to sort out those permutations, but file them under: Good Problems to Have.

We should also temper our expectations. Betts, after all, went 1 for 3 in his June 29 debut before hitting the skids for two weeks. From Aug. 1 through the end of the season, however, he hit .303 with an .844 OPS, providing a taste of what was to come.

 

Duran doesn't need to be Mookie to make an impact on the 2021 pennant race; that comparison isn't fair to anyone. What he does represent is the unknown, and the thrill that comes with watching a prospect arrive in the middle of a pennant race is a uniquely baseball experience.

The Red Sox are about to get a taste in a season that continues finding ways to keep us not only engaged, but on the edge of our seats.