Duran Making Confident Return

PULASKI, VA - After missing essentially all of 2013 and the entirety of 2014 due to injuries, Pulaski Yankees infielder Matt Duran hasn’t lost his confidence. While his road to recovery was a long and bumpy one, Duran, who looks like he hasn't skipped a beat in the early going despite missing so much time, believes that this time he’s back for good.

The Yankees selected Duran in the fourth round of the 2011 MLB Draft with the 149th overall pick. Taken as a third baseman out of New Rochelle High School in New Rochelle, New York, the Yankees assigned Duran to the GCL Yankees in 2011.

After batting .301 in 23 games in 2011, Duran quickly moved up the short-season Staten Island Yankees of the New York-Penn League. There, Duran had his most extensive look at live action, hitting .221 while appearing in 61 games.

Duran next suited up for the GCL Yankees1, a perceived step backward in terms of player progression but he was rehabbing a foot injury at the time. While there, Duran suffered a debilitating elbow injury that kept him sidelined for the remainder of the season. With his elbow injury requiring surgery, Duran prepared himself for another season on the bench.

“It was more of a mental grind than anything,” Duran said. “Just missing out on the season, watching my friends play and do well was hard. It was tough to sit on the sidelines, but I’m glad to be back.”

Knowing that the recovery process would require immense amounts of time and commitment, Duran remained optimistic and persistent throughout.

“It taught me how much I love the game. It was hard to sit back and watch,” he said. “It took a while to get back to baseball activities. I was mostly just strengthening everything in my arm, just working on my workouts, stretching, all that. Towards September or October, I really started to intensify the activities and now, I’m doing well.”

Pulaski Yankees manager Tony Franklin believes that Duran has made all the right strides on the road to recovery.

“He’s doing pretty well so far. He’s real versatile," Franklin said. “He has the ability to play third base and first base. He swings the bat pretty well. It’s unfortunate that he was injured, but he’s making his way back. He had a little bit of a setback in Extended Spring Training. He got injured again a little bit, but he’s doing well.”

During Extended Spring Training, Duran suffered through a series of minor injuries, ones that he described as, “not really major injuries, just small nagging ones.”

There are questions swirling regarding whether or not Duran can re-adjust to the game after missing so much time. Duran believes he’s primed and ready, and his skipper agrees.

“Physically, I feel great. I feel a lot stronger than I did pre-surgery," Duran said. “Now that I’ve worked on a lot of the muscles around the area, I feel a lot stronger.”

“He’s young. Young kids don’t get rusty, just old dudes like me,” Franklin added. “But anybody that misses a little bit of time, it takes some time for them to come back. I think that he’s fine and ready to play."

Now that his primary objective isn’t coming back from an injury, Duran can now shift his full focus on performing. Through eight games this season in Pulaski so far, Duran is hitting .321 with six doubles and one home run.

A testament to his versatility too, Duran is also getting the opportunity to play both third and first base.

“I got drafted as a third baseman,” Duran said. “Actually, my first year, I played more first base than third, so I’m pretty comfortable at both. Whatever it takes to get in the lineup.”

His ability to perform both in the field and at the plate has earned high praise from Franklin.

“Matt’s got a good arm. That’s one of the things I noticed right away about him last year when I saw him,” Franklin said. “He’s got a good arm and a nice throwing motion. And he’s got some pop in his bat, and that’s a good sign. We’re trying to teach them how to use the whole field and I think Matt is doing that.”

Duran believes his experience with battling injuries has reignited his passion for the game, a passion that he hopes to highlight in Pulaski.

“Personally, I just want to stay healthy and build upon some of the stuff I did in the GCL and Staten Island,” Duran said. “As a team, I feel like we have a good team here that will hopefully go far. It would be cool to win a championship in the first year of the Pulaski Yankees. That would be pretty special.”

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