Image credit: Jarren Duran (Photo by Tom Priddy)
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The long line of Long Beach State infielders in the major leagues is storied one.
It began with Jason Giambi and Chris Gomez in the early 1990s, picked up steam in the 2000s with Bobby Crosby, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Danny Espinosa and Matt Duffy and has continued most recently with Jeff McNeil and Garrett Hampson.
In large part because of those infield standouts, Long Beach State alumni have produced more Wins Above Replacement in the majors since 1999 than any other college program.
Jarren Duran is well aware of that tradition. With every swing he takes for high Class A Salem (Red Sox), he is looking more and more like the next Dirtbag in line.
Duran, the Red Sox’s No. 12 prospect, is batting a minor league-best .410 in his first full professional season. The athletic 22-year-old has recorded a hit in 27 of 33 games, owns a .473 on-base percentage and .545 slugging percentage and is 13-for-18 in stolen bases.
It’s a breakout campaign few saw coming from the 2018 seventh-round pick. Given Duran’s pedigree, however, it’s not entirely shocking.
“I don’t really try and look at (the history) because I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” Duran said. “I just kind of want to be where my feet are, and that’s right here in High-A ball.”
Duran’s exceptional speed, which grades as a 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, was the main attribute that attracted scouts to him in college, but those same evaluators had concerns about his bat. Duran hit just .294 over three seasons as Long Beach State’s starting second baseman and never showed much power, although he always managed to get on base at a high clip to let his speed play.
As soon as he got to pro ball, however, Duran began to hit. He batted .357/.394/.516 while moving up to low Class A Greenville last year after signing, and he now sits comfortably above .400 more than a month into the 2019 season as Salem’s leadoff hitter.
“I’m just trying to do the little things,” Duran said. “Line drives, ground balls, get on base for the big guys.
“I think I’m just going out there and having fun honestly. I don’t put too much pressure on myself. I just go out there and play the way I know how to play.”
While Duran is having fun, the pitchers he’s facing are decidedly not. That’s been the case for the better part of two seasons now, both of which Salem manager Corey Wimberly has experienced up close.
“He hits the ball hard, man, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the fastest guys in baseball as well,” said Wimberly, who also managed Duran at short-season Lowell last year. “He barrels up a lot of balls, and he controls the strike zone really well and he’s aggressive. When he gets a pitch in the zone, he’s ready to hit it.”
What makes Duran’s performance even more impressive is the fact he’s done it while learning a new position. A second baseman at Long Beach State, Duran bounced between second base, right field and center field in his pro debut after signing last year and moved to center field full-time this year.
Evaluators who have scouted Duran this season note he still has to improve his positioning and instincts in center field—not unexpected for someone who only recently started playing the position—but that he has the speed and athleticism to stay there.
“Getting used to center field has been the biggest challenge,” Duran said. “Mostly the angles of the ball because it’s way different than left field and right field. I feel like I’ve gotten way more comfortable. I have a good coaching staff that helps me.”
Duran knows he still has a long way to go to join his Long Beach State predecessors as a major leaguer and is quick to dismiss talk of it.
At the same time, with the way he’s performing, those around him don’t expect it to be long before he becomes the latest former Dirtbags infielder to make his mark at baseball’s highest level.
“I think he can be great,” Wimberly said. “That’s all I’ve seen out of him. I think he can continue everything he’s doing right now as he moves up through the levels, and I expect nothing less.”