What's To Like
On May 27th of last year, Duran had it all working. His entire "What's To Like" section could essentially be boiled down to that outing alone.
Facing the Iowa Cubs in his second start of the year for St. Paul, the Dominican right-hander struck out eight over four innings of one-hit, shutout ball. He touched triple digits multiple times with his heater. He unleashed a bevy of nasty offspeed pitches, including his signature "splinker."
Duran was in command and flat-out dominant, showing every bit of the ability that made him the top pitcher in our rankings last year.
This ability has more or less been on display since Duran first came to Minnesota at the 2018 deadline, when he led the return package from Arizona for Eduardo Escobar. In 167 innings as part of the Twins organization, he has 202 strikeouts and a 3.50 ERA, with just 132 hits allowed.
Duran's performance tailed off quickly last year after the aforementioned late-May gem, and he was shut down before the end of June due to an elbow strain. Concerning, obviously, but hardly damning after the disruption of a lost season in 2020. Plenty of other pitchers experienced health issues last year, inside and outside the Twins organization.
The Twins opted for a PRP injection rather than surgery. He was able to throw again in the fall, albeit not in live games – seemingly a positive sign. He's already 24 and hasn't built up much durability, so the bullpen is Duran's most likely destination at this point.
And that's okay. So long as he stays off the injured list and is able to unleash his arsenal at full strength, he will be an asset.
What's Left To Work On
Duran was not a perfect prospect even before injuries wiped out his 2021 season – his control and changeup both need work, especially if he hopes to stick as a starter – but simply keeping himself on the mound would be a huge accomplishment for the 6-foot-5 hurler in 2022.
Throwing 16 innings total over the past two years is a major setback to his workload development, although he'd built up a decent baseline beforehand by throwing 100 innings in 2018 and 115 in 2019.
His big sturdy build and previous history of durability provide hope Duran can get back on track health-wise. But we'll have to see him get through a couple months incident-free in order to feel confident the team's course of action in 2021 negated a need for surgery, rather than delaying it.
It's unknown exactly what the Twins' plan is for Duran this year. There's been no indication the club intends to move him into the bullpen straightaway, but surely they will be very cautious with his innings – even his pitch counts and stress levels within those innings.
On one hand, keeping him in Triple-A for awhile seems like the best way to carefully manage his arm. On the other hand, if he truly is healthy and throwing flames again, you don't necessarily wanna waste a bunch of his bullets in the minors.
It might be the best way to bring Duran along is as a multi-inning reliever, which would fit with the vision for a modular pitching staff that doesn't rely on traditional six-inning starters to shoulder the load.
Unless and until the Twins make some impactful veteran additions to the rotation, I'm going to assume they're tentatively planning as such. If healthy (a big IF, clearly), I'd give Duran a decent chance of winning a roster spot in spring training and a strong chance of debuting in the first half of the season.