Duran's new mindset for an improved '23 season

March 23rd, 2023

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Back from the World Baseball Classic, where he did a lot more spectating than playing for Team Mexico, resumed his quest to crack the Opening Day roster for the Red Sox, even though the odds seem stacked against him.

Duran led off on Thursday against the Pirates in Boston's 7-4 victory, which provided the left-handed hitter an opportunity to make a sudden impact. Even though he got out on a weak chopper back to the pitcher in his first at-bat, Duran's speed was noticeable as he made it a close play.

Manager Alex Cora’s response when asked what he is looking for from Duran was fitting.

“Just play,” Cora said.

Duran, the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system just two years ago, admits that he let the outside noise get to him, whether it was the high rankings or criticism of his defense in center field. In other words, there were times Duran didn’t "just play" because there were too many other thoughts swirling around in his head.

“Whenever you have high expectations [from others], you expect a lot out of yourself. But I guess it's always just tough to do what everybody else wants you to do,” Duran said. “At the end of the day, you just have to do what’s best for you and what makes you happy and your teammates happy.”

The 26-year-old is in a better place now, and he is in the mindset of letting his talent take over. In the offseason, he hit the weight room hard -- which is obvious with a quick glance at his biceps -- but Duran was also able to maintain his speed.

“You put on a little bit of weight, but you’ve also got to work on your speed and just continue to run and stay strong,” said Duran. “But I think the stronger you get, the faster you get. I think it [goes] hand in hand.”

Duran was rated so highly two years ago because of his tools. He knows he didn’t lose those skills in a span of two years, even if his results have been lacking in the Major Leagues. Duran’s hope is that his improved mindset will lead to improved results when he either breaks camp with the team or is called up during the season.

“I'm just gonna keep working, and hopefully I'll get my opportunity and I'll be able to show it off,” said Duran.

Though Duran had just five at-bats for a Team Mexico squad that advanced all the way to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic, he isn’t wasting any time second-guessing his decision to play for the country his father is from.

“You're not going to get that experience anywhere else,” said Duran. "It [feels like] the bottom of the ninth, full count, every single pitch.”

If Duran is upset he didn’t get more playing time, he isn’t saying so publicly.

“It's baseball, it happens. You get used to it,” said Duran.

Now, Duran is in the unique spot of getting his playing legs back under him with just a few days left in camp.

“I don't even know what to expect, but [Duran] was swinging the bat so well before he left,” Cora said. “The situation, going to a tournament, not playing, we don't control that. I know we're proud of him.”

If not for the presence of veteran Raimel Tapia, who is in camp on a non-roster invite and doesn’t have options, Duran -- who does have options -- would have a better chance to make the team.

“I've never been that guy that looks at that. They're going to make a decision, no matter what you think. There’s no point in stressing about it,” said Duran.

It was Tapia who lofted an inside-the-park grand slam over Duran’s head at Fenway Park in a 28-5 loss to the Blue Jays last July. Duran lost the ball in the twilight and didn’t chase after it. It was fuel for those vocal critics who didn’t think he was a good defender in center. Duran admits he lost confidence in himself as an outfielder. Now, he has it back.

“I think it’s more [about] telling myself I can play there more than anything else. I know I can do it, but sometimes you doubt yourself, especially when you listen to outside noise,” Duran said. “But I have more confidence in myself, especially with how hard I’ve been working.”

And if there’s one thing that can help Duran turn his career around, it is this.

“Just play loose,” said Duran. “Don’t get too tight out there.”