Top 30 Reds Prospects: No 29

The Reds have aggresively gone after foreign talent and they made a splash in 2008 by utilizing a loophole to sign sixteen year old Juan Duran with a $2M bonus. Since then he's had mostly lackluster results on the field in the lower minor league levels. Now ready for his sixth professional season, he's still only 21 and the Reds are hopeful he'll take the next step in his development.

With the challenges of small market teams competing against larger payrolls there is a need for them to be more creative when investing money and it's no secret that the Reds have made a decision aggressively go after foreign talent. They made a splash in 2008 when they signed Juan Duran out of the Dominican Republic. At that time there was a lot of competition for his services, but the Reds discovered a loophole that allowed him to sign as a sixteen year-old. Rules state that international players have to turn seventeen by September 1 or the end of their first professional season. Duran's birthday is on September 2 and while other teams were waiting for next year Cincinnati inked him with a $2M bonus and assigned him to Billings whose season did not end until September 5.

An odd thing happened after landing the youngster; he then grew six inches in height to 6'8". That would have been reason to rejoice if the Reds had been looking for a basketball player. Unfortunately that physical maturation comes at a price for baseball players. On one hand a bigger physique can provide more ability to drive the ball and Duran has no trouble capturing attention during batting practice. On the other hand it gives a larger strike zone to protect against opposing pitchers.

Thus far in his professional career pitchers have taken advantage of his generous target and Duran has fanned in one third of his plate appearances, more than four times the frequency of his base on balls rate. There are also challenges that anyone would have with adjusting to such a rapid growth and those have been evident in Duran's defense in the outfield where his fielding percentage is barely over .900 while managing a range factor of only 1.28/game. He does have a strong arm, but unfortunately his problems occur before it's time to throw.

That's not to say that there's still a lot of potential in this prospect. Home runs cure a lot of ills and Duran's performance in the batter's box before the first pitch of a game is indeed impressive. Cincinnati was hopeful that 2011 was a breakout season when he overcame a slow start hampered by a hamstring injury and ended up slamming sixteen homers while hitting .264 at Dayton. That earned him a promotion to Bakersfield last year where he had an unimpressive season, but he did improve over the second half.

Duran is a classic example of the high risk/high reward characteristic that frequently comes with foreign players. The Reds have already risked $2M and are still hopeful the reward will come. Even though he's ready to start his sixth professional season he's still only twenty-one years old, so he would not be behind schedule should they decide to give him another season at high-A. He has dealt with changes to his body while filling out a taller frame and his skills need to be polished, but that is the reason for the lower minor league levels.

After five years in the Reds system the top two things on Duran's resume remain potential and youth. He was promoted up the pipeline stateside from the Dominican League and through the rookie leagues sans any noteworthy accomplishment on the field along the way. Of course the big drawback to the high-risk players is that they often don't live up to expectation and youth is fleeting. There is still time for Duran to develop into the player the Reds envisioned when they reached deep into their pocket in 2008 and he should be primed to put up a good stat line at Bakersfield should they decide to return him there to start next season. If he can manage that then they will be happy to continue advancing him up the chain. If not then they will be facing some difficult questions.

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