Arrow pointed upward for prospect Duran

Coming off an MVP showing in winter ball, youngster is off to strong spring start

March 7th, 2021

's tenure in center field at Fenway Park is likely to begin this season. He impressed team officials at the alternate training site in 2020, was named MVP of Puerto Rico’s Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente championship series in January and homered in two of his first nine Grapefruit League at-bats this spring.

At a point of limitless possibility in Duran’s baseball career, it’s intriguing to note that the Buena Park, Calif., native once contemplated another line of work.

He wanted to be a U.S. Navy SEAL.

“I don’t like to quit,” Duran, 24, said during a recent interview with “That’s a big thing when I’ve seen them. If you want to succeed, you can’t quit. That inspired me. These guys just don’t quit. They’re winners. That’s their thing: ‘I’m going to win at everything I do.’

“That fueled me. I was like, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’ The brotherhood they have is inseparable. It can’t be compared to anybody, because you have to trust the person to your left and right with your life ... The hard work those guys do -- and the great things they do for us -- was a huge inspiration to me.”

As a 5-foot-6 student at Cypress High School, Duran said he was “the small guy who had to work twice as hard as everybody else.” A growth spurt helped. The guidance of his parents, Octavio and Dena, mattered even more.

“I owe so much to my dad,” Duran said of his father, who has advanced from field work to a management position at PepsiCo. “My dad was my discipliner and my mom was my caretaker. My dad would be tough on me and then my mom would [say], ‘Oh, it’s OK.’ Then, sometimes I’d have both of them critiquing me and I’m like, ‘Hey, Mom! You’re supposed to love me when Dad gets on me.’”

Duran paused and laughed at the memory.

“They both love me tons,” he added, “and they definitely inspire me to go out and do my best.”

Duran enrolled at Long Beach State, one of two Division I programs to offer him a scholarship; he played second base there, before transitioning to center field early in his pro career. Mike Rikard, the Red Sox scouting vice president who drafted Duran, loves to note what he read in one scout’s report: Jarren is not a man of many words ... There is obvious intensity about everything he says ... He’s a grinder ... [He's] confident, [with a] tough demeanor about him . . . He considers himself a hard-nosed player.

“He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever had the opportunity to draft,” Rikard said in a recent telephone interview. “Jarren was an unheralded guy at Long Beach State. So much of the credit goes to our area scout, Justin Horowitz, who identified him as a premium athlete with big tools. Justin felt there was a development opportunity with how he stood in the box, because he was really spread out and tried to hit the ball the other way too much.

“Jarren’s a really strong guy -- and we thought at some point down the road, he would begin to tap into some power. It looks like in the past six months, he’s started to turn the corner in that regard.”

The most obvious change for Duran -- a left-handed hitter who is Boston's No. 8 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- has been a lower hand position. His pre-pitch setup now resembles that of Anthony Rizzo -- and the adjustment allowed Duran to show improved pull power at the alternate training site. When combined with game-changing speed -- Duran stole 46 bases over 132 games during the 2019 Minor League season -- it’s easy to see why Boston manager Alex Cora has compared Duran to former All-Star outfielder Grady Sizemore.

Jarren Duran hit .294 over three seasons at Long Beach State.Long Beach State

Duran has also worked diligently on his mental skills -- a crucial tool in managing the pressure of one of the world’s most passionate baseball markets.

“I think a big thing I’ve brought into this year is [the realization] everybody fails,” Duran said. “I used to be so hard on myself about failing. If I got out or struck out, I would beat myself up about it. Even the greats fail. You fail in this game more times than you succeed. Honestly, [I’m] preparing to catch myself in those moments, where I’m getting down on myself. I go, ‘No. Stop. It happens. It happens to everybody.’

“And it’s hard, too, with people critiquing you: ‘He can’t do this. He can’t do that.’ That feeds into it, too. Just canceling out the noise is a big thing.”

Duran’s winter ball assignment affirmed the organization’s belief in him: He played for the Criollos de Caguas, the Puerto Rican club with which Cora has a longstanding relationship. Ramón Vázquez, Boston’s quality control coach, is the Caguas manager.

Duran helped Caguas reach the Caribbean Series final last month, before a loss to Águilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Republic.

“It’s a different atmosphere, man,” Duran said with a smile, when asked about his winter ball experience. “That’s their life out there. Baseball. It’s awesome to play with other guys that love baseball just as much as me, how crazy they are about it. It definitely helped me. I got to see more live at-bats before Spring Training [and] different types of pitching.”

Afterward, two Criollos players were named to the all-tournament team: Duran and Cardinals legend Yadier Molina. “It was awesome,” Duran said of his experience playing alongside the nine-time All-Star. “He’s one of the nicest guys ever. The first time I met him, he acted like he’d known me for 10 years.”

While Duran was in Mazatlán, Mexico, for the Caribbean Series, awareness grew among his teammates -- and opponents -- that Duran’s Mexican heritage could allow him to play for Mexico in a future World Baseball Classic. Duran’s family is central to his identity. He has tattoos in memory of his grandmother, Beatriz Iman, and aunt, Donnetta Iman, on his left arm.

Duran said he’ll need to think in the future about whether to represent the U.S. or Mexico internationally. Given the way his spring is unfolding, he’ll have plenty of Major League experience before making that decision.

“For me, a successful 2021 season would be that I don’t beat myself up too much, I have fun, I enjoy where I’m at -- whether that’s Double-A, Triple-A, or the big leagues,” Duran said, when asked about his goals for the year. “Wherever I’m at, I’m having the time of my life, I’m enjoying the company of my coaches and players. And if I do all of that, I feel everything else will fall in line.”