Former sixth round pick German Duran had a breakout season with Double-A Frisco in 2007, as he established career-highs in virtually every statistical category. The Fort Worth native batted .300 with 32 doubles, 22 home runs, and 84 runs batted in. Duran's outstanding season earned him a spot in the Texas League All-Star Game, where he won the league's home run derby. He was also selected as one of two Rangers prospects to participate in the MLB Futures Game during All-Star Weekend.
Drafted as a shortstop, Duran struggled defensively in his first two professional seasons. After making 25 errors at High-A Bakersfield in 2006, the Rangers elected to move Duran to second base. Duran developed into a strong defensive second baseman, making just 17 errors in 2007.
Though Duran has shown a great deal of improvement with the glove, he remains best known for his work at the plate. Because Duran is such an advanced hitter, the Rangers expect him to be playing in the Major Leagues before the end of the 2008 season. But with talented second baseman Ian Kinsler locked up for the next five years, it seems unlikely that a hole will be opening for Duran in the near future.
Seeing the impending roadblock over the offseason, the Rangers decided to develop Duran as sort of a super-utility player. Duran has already spent time at second base and shortstop since coming to the Rangers organization, but the club also wanted to get him work at third base. The 23-year-old spent time at third base during instructs and the Arizona Fall League over the offseason and he appeared in a few games at the hot corner during spring training. Duran still has limited experience at the position, but he will spend a good deal of time working there as he opens the season with Triple-A Oklahoma.
The Rangers didn't feel Duran was quite ready to make the big leagues out of spring training, but he should get a look at some point this season. Duran will begin the season with Triple-A Oklahoma, but he figures to be next in line behind Major League utilityman Ramon Vazquez.
Lone Star Dugout spoke with Duran after a recent minor league spring training game.
Jason Cole: How long have you been here in Surprise?
German Duran: I've been out here since the beginning of February – the third.
Cole: What were you doing out here before camp officially opened?
Duran: I was taking ground balls, hitting, running the bases, and stuff like that. I was working with Wash [Ron Washington] at third and short and with Rudy [Jaramillo]. A lot of those guys came out early. I was just kind of getting the feel of things.
Cole: You got to play some third base in a few big league spring training games this year. How did you feel that went?
Duran: It's alright. It was pretty good. It's a lot of fun, being a new position for me. When you move somewhere new it's always fun because you don't know what to expect. But it was fun and I thought I did alright. It is probably a move that is going to help me out later on or maybe even this year to get to the big leagues.
Cole: Have the Rangers told you how much third base and shortstop you will be playing this season?
Duran: They said I was going to be splitting some time all over the place. I don't know how much, but I'm guessing it will be pretty good time over there.
Cole: So you expect to still see most of your time at second base?
Duran: I think I will be for the most part. But I think I'll be moving around a lot too.
Cole: You didn't make the big league club out of camp. Was there a little bit of disappointment after you found that out?
Duran: No, not at all. I mean I'm 23-years-old. I know what I can do. As long as I'm out there playing baseball and having fun, I don't care. Everybody wants to get to the big leagues, but at the same time I want to play everyday and get my at-bats. Whenever they need me, I guess it's whenever they call me. I don't think they were ready for me to be out there now, but whenever they do feel that I'm ready, I'll be waiting.
Cole: You also got some at-bats in big league camp. How did you feel up there against big league pitching?
Duran: It's like anything else – early spring. I wasn't like ‘oh man, this is so and so'. For me, I'm out there hitting and it was all about timing. It was early in the spring and I feel like my timing was a little off. I hadn't faced a lot of pitching. But I thought it went pretty well, getting 10 or 11 at-bats or whatever I got.
Cole: Let's go back to your offseason for a second. What were you doing to stay in baseball shape?
Duran: Just weights and running. I kept my running program and my meal plan, just eating healthy. I was giving my body rest from the long season I had last year. I was getting strong and putting some weight on that I lost. Most of the time I was just working out, eating, and hanging out.
Cole: Did you do much hitting over the offseason?
Duran: I did. When I got home, I took about a week and a half or two weeks off. But if I'm not doing some baseball, I feel like I'm not doing anything. I feel like I'm ruining my day. So I would go out there and hit – I started hitting like the third week into the offseason. A lot of guys don't hit until January. I was hitting soft toss and taking ground balls because I have to do something.
Cole: What has been your primary focus at the plate thus far?
Duran: Right now I'm just kind of getting my timing down, getting my foot down. I want to see the ball and hit it the other way. Like I said, spring training is all about getting your timing, getting your rhythm, and kind of getting in your mode of playing everyday. Right now I'm just trying to get down early, see the ball, and hit the ball the other way.
Cole: I know you have real quick hands. Does that make it a little bit tougher to go the other way with the ball?
Duran: No. It's something that I learned to use a lot last year when I hit a lot of balls the other way. When they do throw the ball in, it kind of helps you when you show that you can hit the ball the other way. I learned to make that my strength. It used to be my weakness, but I was able to make it my strength when they do come in. It's all about backing the ball up for anybody. If you back the ball up, let it travel, and then let your hands let it go.
Cole: What has been the biggest challenge for you as you adjust to a new position in third base?
Duran: Right now I really haven't had that many balls over there, so I don't know. I think the angle the ball is hit. From second base, you can see the ball coming right at you. But at third base, on a rollover, you don't really know where it's going. You've got to be on your toes and come up on the ball or stay back. There are a lot of balls that are hit hard over there. A lot of balls dribble and they get hits in front of home plate. I guess it's judging the ball; where it is hit.
Cole: Have you set any goals for this season?
Duran: Stay healthy. I want to have a good season. As long as I'm having fun, I don't really set my goals as ‘I want to hit .350' or a certain amount. You can't control what happens after you hit the ball. I just want to go out there and have a good season, hit the ball hard, play good defense, and stay healthy.
Cole: I assume you will be starting your season at Triple-A Oklahoma?
Cole: Have the Rangers given you any indication as to whether or not you will get an opportunity in the majors this year?
Duran: They do. They say if something happens I'll probably be the guy they call up just so they can give me some work. I want to go down there and get some at bats, get hot, and get ready so when they do need me, I'll be there and I'll be ready.
Cole: Now that you're so close to the Majors – just one step or injury away – does that give you a little extra motivation?
Duran: Oh, definitely. When they tell you you're that close, it's kind of like you want to grab it, but you can't. You have to be patient. But there is a lot of motivation. You go out there and work hard – I'm a guy who just likes to work anyways – but it gives me more of a reason. I guess it makes me hungrier to get up there.
Duran keeping busy in the field
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