Since 2017, the Yankees have signed numerous highly-rated international prospects, and used top draft picks to boost the middle infield depth in their farm system. International signees, rospects such as Alexander Vargas and Roberto Chirinos, as well as high draft picks, like Anthony Volpe and Josh Smith, are among those who have been brought into the system with much hype and anticipation.
While these high-profile acquisitions are making their presence felt across the system, Ezequiel Duran has flown under the radar, but the young second baseman is making a big impact for the Staten Island Yankees this season. He now looks like a part of the Yankees system’s middle infield equation.
Duran’s short professional career has been one of starts and stops. He was a good enough prospect that many scouts feel he would have warranted a healthy six-figure bonus as part of the 2015-2016 international signing class. After failing to register with MLB in time, Duran did not become eligible to sign until over a year later. Duran ended up signing with the Yankees as an 18 year old for only $10K on July 2nd, 2017, two full years after he would have first been old enough to sign.
Upon signing, Duran played like someone making up for lost time, as he torched the Dominican Summer League with a 1.169 OPS that included 12 extra-base hits in 15 games. The metrics available also caught the eyes of scouts, as Duran reportedly recorded 112 mph exit velocities.
Results in the DSL can be easily be written off, considering it is the lowest level of the minor leagues, and Duran only played in a small sample size of games. One set of scouts took notice, though, and even with Yankees boasting a deep farm system heading into the 2018 season, FanGraphs rated Duran as the 14th-best Yankees prospect.
Entry onto a top prospects list brought Duran more attention as well as expectations as he came stateside for the first time in early 2018. Between his play in the Dominican and in extended spring training, the Yankees thought enough of his ability to jump Duran over the Gulf Coast League, and start his 2018 season with the rookie advanced Pulaski Yankees. Facing higher caliber pitching in the Appalachian league, Duran’s aggressive approach at the plate was exploited by the competition and he struggled to produce offensively. Duran frequently found himself behind in the count, and failed to make much hard contact, producing an extremely low 10% line drive rate. His lack of quality contact was made worse by his impatience at the plate, as he walked less than 4% of the time. The end result was a .201/.251/.311 line, and an abysmal 48 wRC+.
Moving into 2019, Duran was promoted one level to the short-season Single-A Staten Island Yankees. The early results looked as if Duran was again over-matched, as he started the season with 14 strikeouts and only three hits in his first six games. Then, Duran started hitting, and he hasn’t stopped in the 45 games since. He’s currently slashing .286/.350/.560, which is good for a 163 wRC+ in the NY-Penn League.
His 11 home runs lead the league, while his four triples are tied for third in the league. Duran’s power works to all fields as well, as five of the right-hander’s home runs have come to center and right field. Duran has also increased his walk rate this season to nearly 10%. Improved plate discipline combined with ever-present physical tools has allowed Duran to get to this power and drive the ball. The 20-year-old is providing Staten Island with a potent one-two punch at the top of the lineup with fellow middle infielder, 2019 second-round pick Josh Smith.
Duran is quickly showing the tools that should get Yankees fans excited. He has excellent bat speed and power, and is capitalizing on these tools to thrive in 2019. With many other high-profile prospects populating middle infield positions in the Yankees’ system, Duran will have to continue to impress to stay ahead of a talented crowd. Duran posses the tools and abilities to do so, and now he is starting to put it all together.