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Getting Jhoan Duran Back on Track


The Twins have a Jhoan Duran problem. Or, at least, they are about to have one. The stud prospect possesses a triple-digit fastball, nasty breaking stuff, and the coolest name in the entire farm system, but injuries (and a non-existent minor league season in 2020) have limited him to just 16 innings over the last two seasons. Let's get him back on track. 

The team has not yet announced that Duran will miss the rest of 2021, but, given the nature of elbow strains, I find it difficult to see him returning to the mound in any meaningful way. There's just no decent reason to push him. Now, 2022 will be about rebuilding (essentially) two years of missed time while juggling playing time at both the AAA and major league levels. That sounds like quite a challenge. Fortunately, there is another player that the Twins can mimic in how they build Duran back up. Unfortunately, that player is on a rival squad.

Michael Kopech; you probably know him. The White Sox brought him over with Yoán Moncada when they traded scissors-enthusiast Chris Sale to Boston as a kick-start to their rebuild. Kopech debuted in 2018 with mild success-barely any walks, but a ton of homers-and emerged as something of a budding ace. The following two years were less kind. Kopech missed all of 2019 with Tommy John surgery, and then he opted out of the 2020 season for 'personal reasons'. Kopech was still more-or-less as talented as when he debuted, but he faced an uphill climb in 2021 to build back the stamina needed to be a successful starter. What has been the plan?

Use him as a reliever, of course. Kopech has started just three games against 27 relief appearances as of August 23rd. Oddly enough, Chicago immediately threw Kopech into the heat of battle-eight of his first ten appearances lasted longer than one inning-before reining him in afterward. Since May 18th, he has thrown multiple innings just three times, with none of those outings lasting longer than two innings. 

Perhaps part of that is caution. MLB teams are notorious for treating young pitchers like buried treasure, but I think there's a somewhat different philosophy at play here. Yes, the White Sox want to be careful with Kopech, but they want to get him cheap playing time. Relief pitchers are much easier to command because the manager can control the situations they find themselves in. Do you want to avoid using a guy in a high-leverage context? Then don't. Do you want to get him multiple innings? Go right ahead. The reliever moniker allows the team to be flexible in a way that starters cannot be.

I believe that the Twins should follow suit with Duran. His lack of innings perfectly mirrors the situation Kopech was in, and the 2021 season has been fantastic for Chicago's righty (I wrote this sentence before he gave up five earned runs in one inning, whoops.) The team should use Duran as a sort of swingman or as a piggybacker at the major league level as soon as they can. Forcing Duran to burn time at AAA in a vain effort to build back his stamina will only cause the team to avoid utilizing one of their most exciting pitching prospects.

"But Matt," you say, "why not just keep him as a starter in AAA? Why force him into the bullpen? What difference does it make?" These are fair questions. 

The Twins will strongly limit Duran in 2022. My guess is 80 innings-it could be more but likely not by much. Why, then, should Duran waste innings at AAA when he could instead get accustomed to major league talent while also building back his innings? The team will not be competitive in 2022, so Duran taking his occasional licks will hurt no one.

Keep in mind that Duran will be 24 when the 2022 season begins, and if they keep him as a starter that season, he likely will not be up in any significant fashion until 2023, when he's 25. That's far from old, but he's getting to the point where his prospect status needs to become actual tangible major league ability. The Twins should be looking solely to prep Duran for 2023, and I see a spot in the major league bullpen as a better alternative than more time at AAA.


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Has there been any indication, Matt, that Duran is throwing so a return this year is possible?  Or is he still shut down?

The key difference with Kopech is that Kopech had TJ surgery in 2019 and it was behind him.  Duran hasn't had surgery, so that possibility is still out there.  I don't know about others, but my fear is that his problem returns later this year or next and he isn't available until 2023 or later.

But I will agree with your premise that if he does return late this year or next, it would be smart to use him out of the bullpen to limit his innings in 2022.

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Agree. So many MLB pitchers began their careers as relievers. Johan Santana was one example. If Duran is hurt he has to be put on the shelf but eventually he needs some experience and learning the ropes from the bullpen can be a very effective way to start a career and may also serve the needs of the club as well.

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1 hour ago, tony&rodney said:

Agree. So many MLB pitchers began their careers as relievers. Johan Santana was one example. If Duran is hurt he has to be put on the shelf but eventually he needs some experience and learning the ropes from the bullpen can be a very effective way to start a career and may also serve the needs of the club as well.

Johan Santana was a stashed 21 year old rule V prospect who had not pitched above A ball. There are zero similarities in his path and Duran’s. Other than parent organization name.

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Duran seems like he's in line to be the next Fernando Romero to me. Never ending accolades about "stuff" that never shows up in actual results.

Duran can't throw strikes (or even hit the catchers mitt) and he still gives up a lot of hits. He's only once shown dominant results in the minors, that was 2018 in regular A ball in Cedar Rapids, but he was struggling before the trade that year with Arizona in A-ball.

AFAIC, he's got a 1/2 season to show dominance or I'd push him out of the top 20 prospects in the system. He's got plenty to prove and there should be a push to get Duran innings if they can this year. Comparing Duran to Kopech was a crazy reach.

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24 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

Duran seems like he's in line to be the next Fernando Romero to me. Never ending accolades about "stuff" that never shows up in actual results.

Duran can't throw strikes (or even hit the catchers mitt) and he still gives up a lot of hits. He's only once shown dominant results in the minors, that was 2018 in regular A ball in Cedar Rapids, but he was struggling before the trade that year with Arizona in A-ball.

AFAIC, he's got a 1/2 season to show dominance or I'd push him out of the top 20 prospects in the system. He's got plenty to prove and there should be a push to get Duran innings if they can this year. Comparing Duran to Kopech was a crazy reach.

I don't know his WHIP wasn't that bad in 2018 and 2019 certainly this year to start he looked pretty rusty.  I don't think the OP was comparing their stuff as much as that they are both hard throwers and the fact the White Sox used him as a reliever which is what I believe Duran will eventually become.  He really only has two pitches and he has been pretty hittable to this point in his career.  He also seems like he might hold up better as a reliever.  There is less pressure on the WHIP as a reliever so some wildness doesn't kill him there.

He could be Romero but that seems a bit pessimistic as he does have a SPlinker as a plus pitch,  He might be able to get by on that pitch alone as a reliever. I will agree with you that his stats do not support him as a dominant pitcher at least in the upper levels but he has an arm with elite characteristics so not a player you throw away.  He still has time to move his ceiling to starting pitcher especially if can develop that changeup. I guess we will know more once he stays on the field more than a few games.

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Duran feels like a reliever to me. A potentially really good one who throws 100 with a secondary pitch ("Splinker") that some people rate as a 70. If he comes back this year I throw him in the St Paul bullpen for a few outings and let him go a couple innings at a time. Bring him back next year with a shot to carve out a spot in the Twins bullpen or put him in St Paul's bullpen and follow the approach the OP is suggesting. I don't know that I'd really be banking on him being a starter ever, but I'd be looking to turn him into my Hader type fireman who can throw a couple innings sometimes or just come in and K the side. (I actually think Joe Ryan ends up in that kind of role, too, but that'd be real nice to have multiple shutdown guys in the pen)

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15 minutes ago, Dman said:

He could be Romero but that seems a bit pessimistic as he does have a SPlinker as a plus pitch,  He might be able to get by on that pitch alone as a reliever. I will agree with you that his stats do not support him as a dominant pitcher at least in the upper levels but he has an arm with elite characteristics so not a player you throw away.  He still has time to move his ceiling to starting pitcher especially if can develop that changeup. I guess we will know more once he stays on the field more than a few games.

Romero was voted the #1 Twins prospect in 2017. Accolades flowed readily about Romero's "stuff" on various Twins sites including a mystical 100mph fastball despite Romero rarely actually limiting runs. Also, I didn't say a single thing about throwing Duran away. Downranking Duran in the prospect list doesn't mean the Twins need to release him. 

 

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I don't think the Twins can make any plans that count on this kid next year. He's found money if he turns out  to be healthy & effective.

In my classic Minnesota pessimistic view:

He's still sidelined with a vague elbow strain, right? I imagine he's going to rest/rehab until spring '22 at this point. Maybe it's something that heals on its own but we've seen enough times this lead to eventual surgery that will wipe out another year and a half. At which point he'll be 25 years old with 3 years of minimal innings. If all goes well and he holds up health-wise then he'll then spend 2nd half of 2023 establishing innings/command. So new ETA is 2024 at 26 years old, probably with a new ball club.

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46 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

Romero was voted the #1 Twins prospect in 2017. Accolades flowed readily about Romero's "stuff" on various Twins sites including a mystical 100mph fastball despite Romero rarely actually limiting runs. Also, I didn't say a single thing about throwing Duran away. Downranking Duran in the prospect list doesn't mean the Twins need to release him. 

 

Sorry I guess the comp made me think he would end up the same as Romero.  Romero never did better than that season and his K rate dropped until 2019 when he got his chance at the MLB level I believe.  He got shelled there never to return.

I can agree Duran is too high on the top 30 as I see him as a reliever but likely an elite one if the arm stays healthy.  I think his stuff is a fair bit better than Romero's although I don't think he gets enough movement on one of his fastballs and the changeup to this point seems to be more of a liability than asset.  Command and control need work but that generally seems to be a problem for most hard throwers.  He does not not have Kopeks K rate so they are not comparable in that way.  I still think his future looks better than Romero FWTW.

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If you think Duran is not going to need TJS (Canterino, too), you're fooling yourself just like the Twins are.  How many years are they going to waste "rehabbing?"  These guys have it now, they can be pitching in the instructionals next fall.  Put it off until you see he can't pitch next year, and you lose 2023 as well.

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1 hour ago, twinstalker said:

If you think Duran is not going to need TJS (Canterino, too), you're fooling yourself just like the Twins are.  How many years are they going to waste "rehabbing?"  These guys have it now, they can be pitching in the instructionals next fall.  Put it off until you see he can't pitch next year, and you lose 2023 as well.

So, if doctors think they should try something OTHER THAN CUTTING INTO THEIR BODY, they shouldn't?

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1 hour ago, twinstalker said:

If you think Duran is not going to need TJS (Canterino, too), you're fooling yourself just like the Twins are.  How many years are they going to waste "rehabbing?"  These guys have it now, they can be pitching in the instructionals next fall.  Put it off until you see he can't pitch next year, and you lose 2023 as well.

Check this article out.

 

https://twinsdaily.com/index.html/minnesota-twins-news-rumors/kenta-maeda-elbow-second-opinion/

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Surgeons are not going to perform a reconstructive surgery if there's no reason to do it. If it looks like a very mild strain with minimal tearing, especially if it's in a good location, it may be expected for Duran to make a full recovery without surgery. If Duran later needs TJ, it just means he would have blown out the new UCL anyway. Rehab is super important. Strengthening the elbow and forearm so the UCL isn't taking on more stress than the ligament can handle in the first place is key to avoiding future surgery.

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