- Position: 2B
- Born: 5/22/1999
- Bats: Right
- Throws: Right
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 195 pounds
The Yankees signed the soon-to-be 22-year-old Duran out of the Dominican Republic back in 2017 for a relative pittance of $10,000. However, that figure isn’t quite reflective of Duran’s prospect stock. You see, Duran failed to properly register with Major League Baseball until shortly after his 18th birthday. There were rumblings that he would take six-figures to sign, but by the time he was eligible there simply weren’t many teams left with international pool money. And that worked out splendidly for the Yankees.
The Story So Far
Duran made his professional debut on August 3, 2017, as a member of the team’s Dominican Summer League affiliate. He went 2-for-4 with 2 doubles, and that was essentially the baseline for his tenure at that level. In 15 games there, Duran slashed .393/.415/.754 (220 wRC+) with 5 doubles, 4 triples, and 3 home runs. That’s not too shabby.
Duran came stateside in 2018, spending the year with short-season Pulaski. His production was far less enticing, as he batted .201/.251/.311 (48 wRC+) in 235 PA with seven-plus strikeouts for every walk. There were glowing reports regarding his bat speed and athleticism, to be sure — but there’s precious little to be gleaned from that stat line. One should never scout the stat line, but a 48 wRC+ is a 48 wRC+.
And then 2019 happened.
Despite his struggles in the Appalachian League, Duran opened 2019 with the Staten Island Yankees – and he rewarded the organization’s faith by putting up a .256/.329/.496 slash line, 13 home runs, 11 stolen bases, and a 143 wRC+ in 277 PA. He was basically as good in 2019 as he was bad in 2018, and he was back on everyone’s radar. Duran did continue to strike out in bunches, with a 27.8 K%, but he also walked in 9.0% of his plate appearances.
As was the case with many prospects, Duran missed out on a year’s worth of development in 2020. He did spend the month of December at the team’s Dominican instructional league, though.
Duran is a thick-bodied middle infielder, checking in at around 5’11” and between 195 and 205 pounds. Despite said thickness, Duran draws praise for his athleticism, with most outlets grading his speed and range as at least average. And, while FanGraphs’s Eric Longenhagen is down on his defense, the consensus is that he can stick at the keystone.
What stands out the most about Duran, though, is his plus bat speed. He puts a charge into the ball when he makes contact, driving it with authority to all fields. Baseball America, which ranked him as the 7th-best prospect in the New York-Penn League following the 2019 season, reported that his average exit velocity was 91.9 MPH. For comparison’s sake, that would have placed him tied for 20th in the majors in 2020, just behind Juan Soto and a tick ahead of Nelson Cruz. As you might expect from this and his 2019 line, Duran’s power is most commonly graded as between above-average and plus.
Duran is aggressive at the plate, and has been fooled more often than you’d like by off-speed stuff. However, his pitch recognition has been described as improving more often than not, and he isn’t necessarily impatient. With his crisp swing mechanics, age, and realtive inexperience, this doesn’t feel like something that’s unfixable.
A common comparison for Duran is Dan Uggla, which may not sound too thrilling at first blush. However, that’s fairly high praise, considering that for the first five years of his career Uggla averaged a .263/.349/.488 slash line with 31 home runs in 674 PA.
What about his defense?
I largely glossed over Duran’s defense, as it is a matter of serious intrigue for me. With the exception of the aforementioned FanGraphs, most outlets agree that he has the tools and skills to be a successful second basemen. But what if he could be more than that?
Baseball America notes that he could fill-in at shortstop if needed. That’s a good sign. Keith Law, writing for the Athletic, writes that “his fringy arm might limit him to second base despite speed and hands that would play at short.” MLB’s Jim Callis suggests that his arm limits him to second base, despite his other tools suggest shortstop. And so on.
It’s not uncommon for a second baseman to be able to fill-in at short in a pinch — but a second baseman who could be a shortstop but for his arm strength isn’t so common. And doesn’t an organization that has drawn praise for finding velocity in pitchers of all shapes and sizes feel like the perfect place for such a second baseman to find a bit more zip on his throws?
I don’t have an answer for that question, because I don’t know the Yankees process for sussing out velocity, nor do I know the bio-mechanics behind it all. That said, if Duran could play a competent shortstop with more arm strength, then that could be a boon for the team’s player development. And more arm strength could mean the ability to play third, as well — and all of the sudden you have a guy that can crush the ball and play all over the infield.
Duran is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but he has no shot whatsoever of making the team. And I don’t think he has much of a shot of making it to the show at any point in 2021. That’s not a bad thing, though. That’s true of a bevy of people in Tampa.
I expect him to open the season at High-A. He’ll probably spend most of the year there, too, though a promotion to Double-A isn’t out of the question if he plays well.
I’m an absolute sucker for middle infielders with power, and Duran is no exception. I see him as one of the five-best prospects in the Yankees system, and I think that there could be some big-time hidden value with his defense. I think Duran’s presence as a non-roster invitee in training camp is a good sign, too.
I am also genuinely curious to see if the Yankees are able to work with Duran to improve his arm strength. If he can hit like Uggla, then he can play anywhere and have value. If he can hit like Uggla and play a decent shortstop, he could make a few All-Star teams. I think it’s probably too bold to make such a statement … but more informed writers than myself put that sentiment out there. I’m just running with it.