Speedy Yankees prospect Durbin hungry to make Fall League history

November 8th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. – When Rick Holifield stole 24 bases during the Arizona Fall League’s inaugural campaign in 1994, there was no way of knowing he’d have an airtight grip on the single-season steals record for three decades. But for the first time in 15 years, Holifield has some legitimate company in the form of Yankees prospect Caleb Durbin.

On the back of a three-steal performance during Mesa’s 7-3 win over Salt River at Sloan Park on Tuesday night, Durbin became just the fourth player in AFL history to rack up 20 stolen bases in a season. (Eric Young Jr. was the last to do so in 2008.)

With history in sight, Durbin got confirmation from Solar Sox manager James Cooper – who also serves as skipper for the Rookie-level Yankees club in the Florida Complex League – that he’d be in the lineup for the final two games. Four more stolen bases would give Durbin a combined 60 in 2023, an impressive total. But it’s the 61st steal that’s on his mind.

“I'm hungry for it, man,” Durbin said. “I want that record.”

At this stage, every steal matters, even as opposing pitchers are as reticent as ever to allow Durbin’s potent "shuffle, shuffle, go" method to wreak havoc on the basepaths.

Durbin kicked off his evening with an opposite-field single – one of his three hits on the night – in the first inning. His base-stealing lore has become so well-known that Salt River starter Darius Vines (ATL No. 10) immediately utilized his two pickoff moves to try and keep Durbin close, before firing over to first a third straight time unsuccessfully, gifting the 23-year-old infielder a free base.

“I think everyone in the stadium knew I was going to be running,” Durbin said.

Reaping the benefits of that chaos was fellow Yankees prospect Benjamin Cowles, who played alongside Durbin for the first month of the season at High-A Hudson Valley. Digging in against Vines (who made four appearances in the big leagues for the Braves this year), Cowles jumped on a heater and sizzled it out to left-center field, his fourth homer of the campaign.

Noting he got an “extra sort of joy” for taking an arm that has already appeared in The Show deep, Cowles credited Durbin for diverting Vines’ attention elsewhere. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Cowles grew up a Yankees fan and has deemed playing in pinstripes during the AFL “a dream come true.”

The pair of infielders have formed a formidable duo during their time with the Solar Sox, swatting back-to-back homers on Oct. 16 and ranking second (Cowles) and third (Durbin) on the club in slugging percentage.

Durbin, a 14th-round pick in 2021 out of Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.), is looking to put a cherry on top of his first year in the Yankees organization. Acquired on Dec. 28 as part of the return package that sent left-hander Lucas Luetge to Atlanta, Durbin has hit the ground running – quite literally.

Between his time with Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset, Durbin swiped 36 bags in 69 games, making him one of just four Yankees prospects to accumulate that many steals in 2023. While a high right ankle sprain cost him two months of action over the summer, it made him a perfect candidate to continue garnering more reps in the Fall League.

But for all of the accolades that come with his stolen-base prowess, that wasn't even the most eye-popping stat the 5-foot-6 Durbin produced during the regular season. Across 291 plate appearances (74.6 percent of which came against older pitchers), he struck out just 18 times, good for a miniscule 6.2 percent K rate.

“Just keep a simple approach. I’m trying to do damage, but I’m keeping it simple at the same time and really just picking my pitches to let it loose,” Durbin said. “And then with two strikes, I'm usually pretty dialed in on trying to get the job done and getting on base.

“I think that's the biggest thing – I'm confident even with two strikes. So that just kind of helps me stay relaxed in the box for sure.”

As any astute basestealer will point out, it’s the act of reaching base that sets the tone. And Durbin has certainly done that during his time in Arizona, slashing .351/.463/.558 while ranking in the Top 8 of all three categories league-wide. It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for the Illinois native, who has already earned Yankees Organization All-Star honors and is looking to cap off 2023 with one more shuffle into the record books.