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.