'He's a gifted player': Duran aiming to take leap in 2024

February 24th, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- is a Spring Training legend of sorts.

Over 54 games in his career with the Rangers (2022-23) and Yankees (‘20-21), he’s hit .370/.404/.685 with five homers, three triples, eight doubles and 26 RBIs.

When manager Bruce Bochy first got a glimpse of Duran in Spring Training 2023, he was in awe of the raw power of the then 23-year-old, who slashed .357/.390/.714 in 26 Cactus League games.

Spring production doesn’t always translate to the regular season, but that performance put Duran squarely in the front of Bochy's mind. Duran has a more solidified place on the team entering his second full year in the big leagues, but that doesn’t mean the coaching staff doesn’t want to see more from him this spring.

“First, really, I’m just looking for him to have the spring he had last year,” Bochy said. “That was really impressive and my first look at him. He will be playing everywhere. He's playing short today [Saturday], he’ll be playing third, just mainly in the early go here.”

It’s no secret that the Rangers’ infield is set for the foreseeable future with Corey Seager at short, Marcus Semien at second, Josh Jung at third and Nathaniel Lowe at first. As such, Duran -- a natural second baseman -- has become a utility player. Last season, he logged appearances at shortstop (37 games), left field (34), third base (22), designated hitter (22), second base (nine), first base (two) and right field (one).

Duran proved last season that he is a valuable part of this club, especially when he more than delivered as Seager’s replacement by slashing .308/.344/.526 in 70 games before the All-Star break. After Seager returned, however, he struggled as his playing time decreased, hitting .226/.296/.315 across 52 games in the second half.

“Zeke, for about a month to three weeks there, he got off with his timing,” Bochy said. “I think he was trying to maybe generate too much power, maybe. But he got back on track at the end. We want him to be the guy who we had early in the season. He was a guy that really saved us when Corey went down. That was impressive. He's a gifted hitter. He's a gifted player. He does a lot of things to help the club.”

Duran emphasized that his lack of consistent playing time in the second half wasn’t an excuse for his lack of production when he was in the lineup.

“I approached every single day like I was playing,” Duran said through interpreter Raul Cardenas. “If I was playing or not playing, I would show up and do my job and try to work and try to get better or not. [No consistent playing time] is not an excuse. I was always ready to play.”

There’s no doubt that Duran can be an everyday player. It just so happens that he’s currently on a team with three All-Star infielders in Seager, Semien and Jung. While Lowe hasn't played in the Midsummer Classic, he does own a Silver Slugger Award and Gold Glove Award.

That means Duran knows that his role, barring someone sustaining an injury, will ultimately be as a designated hitter. Duran struggled at times as a DH last season, with a .266/.294/.481 line in 22 games. For comparison's sake, he slashed .291/.354/.478 in 37 games at shortstop and .294/.333/.490 in 31 games in left field.

“It is just something where you have to stay on top of it,” Duran said. “You're not on the field, so it's kind of hard to be consistent. You have to always be paying attention to what goes on during the game and to always be ready to prepare yourself for that next at-bat all the time.”

Duran said he feels good knowing the coaching staff has confidence in him at multiple positions and that the organization, as a whole, values him. He understands that the best way to make an impact on the team is by being as versatile of a defender as possible and continue swinging the bat well.

He’s more than up for the challenge.

“I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”