Friday, May 10, 2024

On The Late Bloomer


The model for MLB development has changed. You're seeing less people join MLB rosters at 20 or 21, and more people reach their potential around 25 or 26 and hope to get 10 or 12 years in the bigs. It's not as easy to have 22-year careers like Brooks Robinson did, because there's more injuries, more minor league development options, and more complexity. 

The downside of this is that even with a prolonged minor league development period, some prospects just need a while to get to their MLB potential. It happened with Tim Beckham back in the day, he didn't start making waves til around his 30s. It's been happening a lot, actually, with prospects brought up too early, people called up at 19 or 20 or 21. Now, because they would normally be spending those years building up in the minors, many young players fill that time with dead air. It happened with Nico Hoerner after his early call-up. It happened with Jackson Holliday in his first O's stint. It's...still happening with Jo Adell.

The one case that seemed to take forever was Jarren Duran, a prized Red Sox outfield prospect. In 33 games after a 2021 midyear call-up, he struggled, hitting .215 with almost twice as many strikeouts than hits. Then he regrouped, had an impressive 2022 in camp, got a starting position to start the season, and...struggled once again. In 58 games he had a .221 average with, despite a slight uptick, numbers that still weren't getting anyone excited. 

But 2023, his AGE 26 SEASON, was his complete breakout. Last year, in 102 games he hit .295 with 40 RBIs and 8 homers. This year he's even better, with 41 hits in 37 games, and a league-leading SIX triples. Duran is one of the highlights of the Sox lineup, he's got a 2.1 WAR, and with Triston Casas, Trevor Story and Masataka Yoshida all hurt, Duran has been the most consistent great player on this team. Finally, Duran seems to be a central figure in this Sox team, and he's even outearned Rafael Devers, who was previously considered the anchor.

What worries me is that he's 27 now and has just reached his peak. I have no idea how many more seasons he will be this good for, but his peak shouldn't start at 26. Look at Rafael Devers, HIS peak started at age 22. If he's lucky, Duran maybe has 3 more years of this sweet spot of peak numbers, and considering how careers used to be shaped in this league, that's not a lot. I could be wrong, and he could be great into his late 30s, but considering the average trajectory, that's asking for a lot without injuries. 

And that's really where we're headed. Maybe Whit Merrifield was a harbinger of more players hitting their peaks in their early 30s, but this also means the average career is shortening, and this isn't even factoring in pitchers. I don't know enough to know how to really solve this problem, but it's definitely something that should concern clubs going forward. Jarren Duran may have a great career, but great careers have peaked by his age. 

Coming Tomorrow- I never thought this guy would become a perennial closer type, especially for this team. 

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