Commentary

The everlasting excitement of the next big thing arrives with Jarren Duran’s Red Sox debut

Red Sox Season
Jarren Duran has a .926 OPS this season with Worcester, third in all of Triple-A East with 15 home runs. John Bazemore/AP

When the Red Sox next play a game, they’ll likely do it with Jarren Duran batting seventh and playing center field. More likely, at least, than knowing exactly when that next game will happen, given COVID-19’s unavoidable reappearance in our present.

Duran’s involvement, with that Thursday night postponement at Yankee Stadium, thus remains theoretical outside of some batting practice and a chat with reporters. Boston’s No. 3 prospect could be going to the Olympics. Instead, he’ll likely be a big part of Chaim Bloom’s effort to give the Red Sox roster a boost without spending big at the trade deadline.

“Get on base for J.D. [Martinez] and some of the big guys,” Duran told reporters Thursday. “Just keep it rolling. They’re killing it right now. So I’m just hoping to sneak in there and just be a little boost of energy at moments when they need me.”

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The comparisons to Jacoby Ellsbury feel unavoidable. In 2007, the speedy center fielder had just 50 Triple-A games under his belt when the Red Sox — in need due to injury — summoned him to Boston on June 30. (Duran has 46, for what it’s worth.) On Night 1, Ellsbury batted ninth and went 1 for 4, the hit a routine ground ball to shortstop he simply beat out.

Two nights later, after a single and his first MLB stolen base, Ellsbury scored from second on a wild pitch. He was running so fast, Ellsbury was essentially past third-base coach DeMarlo Hale by the time the veteran waved him home. It was the lead photo from the game in the next morning’s Globe.

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It remains, 14 years later, a vivid memory. One of the most profound plays I’ve seen live in the majors. Ellsbury’s summer cameo lasted just three more games before he returned to Pawtucket, but he was back in September, and immediately a key part to the final run for a dominant World Series champion.

Duran’s callup, the Sox stress, is not about need. Nor is it a response to losing four of five before the break, further tightening the AL East.

“It was all about making sure his timing was right, that he was in a good spot and 100 percent healthy,” assistant GM Eddie Romero told the Globe.

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A look at the roster backs that. Boston’s outfield has been over-the-moon good, especially given what was expected of it. Kiké Hernández leads the majors in defensive runs saved among outfielders, with Hunter Renfroe in the top 20 and Alex Verdugo — playing the less-taxing Fenway left field — better than league average.

Tanner Houck’s return this week? An obvious one, given the slippage in the starting rotation and the need for an infusion. Duran’s arrival? Understandable, but one where his dynamism feels like the pressing demand.

The power Duran began showing in earnest at the alternate site last summer, and has continued with 15 homers in those 46 games at Triple A Worcester, is a big part of his profile. His speed, however, remains headline-swiping.

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“I can’t wait for him to hit a routine groundball and see how close — or how safe — he’s going to be at first base,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “And he will do that.”

Given all the hype and promise, Duran’s arrival has already been long awaited, and harkens to those who’ve come before. Clay Buchholz stealing the show when the Red Sox resummoned Ellsbury on Sept. 1, 2007, with a no-hitter in his second career start.

Michael Chavis cracking six homers in his first 14 games in 2019. Eduardo Rodriguez allowing one run in his first 20 innings in 2015, less than a year after he was the hyped trade return for Andrew Miller.

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Ted Williams cracking a 400-foot double off Hall of Famer Red Ruffing on his debut day — April 20, 1939, at Yankee Stadium — then his first homer and four hits three days later at Fenway Park.

Of course, sometimes, it doesn’t come immediately. On national TV, Mookie Betts got caught stealing, hit into a double play, and made an overaggressive dive at an eventual Ichiro Suzuki triple on June 29, 2014. (The Sox beat the host Yankees anyway, and it was just Betts’s third pro game in right field.) Jackie Bradley Jr. fought his way into the Opening Day lineup with a gangbusters spring in 2013, was everywhere in his Bronx debut, then was back in Triple A after a 3 for 31 start.

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Roger Clemens was the most heralded Red Sox pitching prospect in two decades when the team summoned him in May 1984, only for him to give up 11 hits in his debut and muster a 7.13 ERA in his first six starts before steadying himself.

A lot of us thought Duran might arrive later, because we thought it would be a highlight of the season for a forgettable team. These Red Sox have proven us wrong time and again, coming off the All-Star Game with the second-best record in the American League (behind the White Sox, tied with Houston) and a nearly 90-percent chance of making the playoffs.

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Instead, Duran’s here for whatever’s next, his development more back of mind for a playoff-thirsty fanbase. And for all the way’s baseball has changed, for better or worse, the excitement to see whether the next big thing ends up being just that remains one of its everlasting joys.

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