Why Ezequiel Duran's case to make Texas Rangers Opening Day roster is complicated
Ezequiel Duran is currently trying to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster as the Texas Rangers' utility player. He would mostly play the infield when Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, or Josh Jung need a day off, and would likely get some time in left field as well. He's in competition with Brad Miller, Clint Frazier, Josh Smith, and Travis Jankowski for that latter role. The front office and coaching staff will have to make some tough decisions at the end of camp and weigh the development of individual players over their ability to help the team win.
The Rangers have consistently made decisions that emphasized development over winning since 2020. Young players were routinely sent down if everyday playing time wasn't available. The thought is that it would be better for their development to play every day at Round Rock or Frisco rather than play inconsistently in Arlington. That's what has led to players like Charlie Culberson, Brad Miller, Kole Calhoun, Brock Holt, and Meibrys Viloria getting playing time over Duran, Sam Huff, and Josh Smith.
The Rangers have adopted a win-now attitude this season. Does that change the perspective of the front office and coaching staff on development? Bruce Bochy had this to say to Levi Weaver of The Athletic when asked a question about his thoughts on roster decisions when it comes to young players:
"It’s different from player to player, but first of all you have to look at the needs of the major-league club; that’s where it starts. If you have somebody that’s close, or comparable to the player you’re talking about, you may want (them) to get those reps down in Triple A, it’s a little easier decision. But if you have a need for a spot, that can force your hand a little bit … especially if you look at a team that wants to contend."- Bruce Bochy via The Athletic
If you go with that thought, then the next question becomes: "Is Duran better than the guys he is competing with?" The shift in roster decisions this spring comes down to: "Can this player help us win now?" The balance between winning and development is leaning more toward winning this season. In the past, the question for young players was what's best for their long-term development. The question as it concerns Duran will be about his ability to help the team win now.
Ezequiel Duran's journey to Major League Baseball
Duran was signed by the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic. He made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2017 at the age of 18. He worked his way through the Yankees system and was traded to the Rangers in the Joey Gallo deal in 2021. He came over with Glenn Otto, Josh Smith, and Trevor Hauver.
Duran started the 2022 season at Double-A Frisco. He had a .371 batting average in May with six home runs, 13 doubles, and 23 RBI for Double-A Frisco. That earned him a promotion from Frisco to Arlington in June when Josh Smith was placed on the injured list. He struggled, but had a game-winning triple in Detroit on June 16. He showed flashes throughout 2022 as he was up and down between Round Rock and Arlington after making his MLB debut in June. He finished up his first major league season hitting .236 with a .643 OPS.
Ezequiel Duran in Spring Training with the Texas Rangers
So far in Spring Training, Duran has been turning some heads of the new coaches. Bochy had this to say about the 23-year-old:
"He’s a kid that grows on you. Not just the bat, it’s going to get better — the discipline, I’m talking about, but it jumps off his bat. But you can play him anywhere. He’s not just doing a decent job there, he does a great job wherever you put him. Second or third, left field is one position he’s working on, and he’s going to get better in time there. He’s just too good an athlete not to be a good left fielder. He’s a valuable player. In fact, his versatility is so good, and those are the type of guys you need on the bench."- Bruce Bochy via The Athletic
The utility job probably comes down to Duran and Josh Smith. Offensively, Duran is more skilled and can do more at the plate and on the bases. If you're looking at it defensively, it probably leans toward Smith. Duran, however, is not a liability defensively. He mainly played third base last season, but also logged reps at second. He has a tremendously strong arm (it ranks in the 84th percentile of defenders), which helps his case in the outfield too.
Offensively, he's an extra-bases machine. He has an ability to drive the ball to all fields and possesses the speed to stretch singles into doubles (his sprint speed ranks in the 92nd percentile of players). But he needs to work on his plate discipline as well as his ability to square up pitches in the zone.
This spring, Duran has played in 12 of the Rangers' 14 games through Thursday's action. He's 8-for-26 with two doubles and four RBI while playing second base, third base and left field.
He has played 54.2 innings in the field so far (seven at second base, 31 at third base, and 16.2 in left field). He has three errors total (two at third and one at second). In the outfield, he has played five games and has turned all three chances he has gotten into outs without committing an error. The infield errors are concerning and continue a trend from last season when he had 10 total (nine at third base)
Duran certainly does have some deficiencies in the field, but the bat plays at the major league level. Does it offset his lack of outfield experience and his tendency to make errors in the infield? The main question Bochy and the coaching staff will ask themselves is: Does Duran make this team better? That'll come with weighing his offensive skillset with his ability to play multiple positions. This is one of the questions that will be answered over the next three weeks as we get closer to Opening Day.