Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 19

Juan Duran is no stranger to top Reds prospect lists since he was signed with a $2 million bonus in 2007. He made it AA last year and though his game still needs some polish, a return there at the age of 23 could be an opportunity to signal that he’s nearing readiness for an MLB debut.

Juan Duran has long been a high-profile prospect in the Cincinnati system since the Reds recognized a loophole that enabled them to ink him with a $2 million signing bonus in 2007 while other teams were waiting to go after him the next year. At that time he entered the system as a teenager with raw skills and a ton of potential. Now the 23 year-old still projects good power, but after seven minor league seasons he’s only slightly less raw.

Cincinnati has a big investment in Duran and they protected it against the Rule 5 draft with a spot on their 40-man roster last year. As they prepare for the upcoming season he’s retained it after debuting with a full season at AA Pensacola and hitting .243 AVG/.297 OB/.464 SLG/17 HR. The outfielder underwent a growth spurt soon after signing that shot him up to 6’7” and he now carries 230#. That physique projects tremendous power and he can probably challenge anyone in the organization right now for giving an impressive batting practice exhibition. However, he still needs more polish to make it materialize for the Reds.

The good news is that in spite of his long minor league service, he was still young for the level and there’s plenty of time for a return visit to the Blue Wahoos. 2013 was his second in high-A and he managed some nice improvement, lifting his OB/SLG by .037’/.080’. A similar jump in a Southern League encore will probably earn him a trip to Louisville by the end of the season. Last year Cincinnati jumped Yorman Rodriguez up to the Reds from AA after roster expansion and if circumstances are right Duran could make a similar trip in 2015.

It must have been challenging for him adjusting to a new frame and trying to manage it well enough to compete as a professional athlete. That growth would have very welcomed for a basketball player, but in Duran’s case it gave opposing pitchers a bigger strike zone for him to protect while trying to retain bat speed with longer arms. He’ll not likely ever become a good contact hitter, but it shouldn’t be hard to improve upon rate at which he struck out last season which was over one third of his plate appearances. He walked decent amount at 6.3%, but was unable to sustain the higher rate he drew from lower level pitching in the previous season.

Of course a high strikeout rate can be tolerated if he can contribute the amount of power that he projects. Perhaps a bit more was expected of him last year after he closed out the regular season with three home runs during his final game at Bakersfield. Still, his 17 dingers was only a few less than the 20 he hit the previous year, which isn’t bad for a move from the California to the Southern Leagues.

At the plate wasn’t the only place where Duran needed to develop his game and he made some progress with the leather in 2014 by running down a range factor of over two putouts+assists per game in the corner outfields spots. The number of outfield assists was low, but that could have been caused by a reluctance of opposing base-runners to take an extra bag because the arm strength of this prospect has long been recognized.

Cincinnati has had time to be patient with Duran after signing him young and his power potential has made that investment worthwhile. Perhaps they would give some consideration to an opportunity to go back in time and sacrifice him to get back that $2 million, but that will never happen and the Reds have stayed the course in bringing him up the organization. 2015 should give a good indication if that journey will end with significant time in a Reds uniform.

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