The first two month of the year are open season for prospect rankings, and FanGraphs was the latest major organization to release their top-100 list. The Yankees found themselves well represented with five players making the cut. FanGraphs followed up their release with a breakdown of what prospects rank the highest using their ZiPS projection algorithm.
ZiPS is a projection system designed by Dan Szymborski. His system has evolved since he first released it in 2004. As more and better analytical data has become available, the formula has been refined to make better projections. Sorting through all of the information at hand, the system seeks to find a baseline of performance for a player, and then estimate what his future will look like.
It is no surprise that FanGraphs is the first organization to rank Duran as a top-100 prospect. Heading into the 2018 season, they were the first to put him on the Yankees prospect radar when they ranked him as the team’s 14th best prospect after just 15 games in the Dominican Summer League.
What is surprising is that Duran was ranked as the 59th best prospect by ZiPS, higher than his rating of 85 in the top-100 list. What are the factors that have FanGraphs, and ZiPs so bullish on the young second baseman?
In their write-up, the FanGraphs team mentioned that only four players in the NY-Penn league hit double-digit home runs this past season. Duran was the league leader with 13 round trippers on the season, setting him apart from many of his peers.
In addition to the home runs, Duran was in the top 10 of the league for slugging percentage and OPS. His offensive production registered a 143 wRC+ on the season. He did this while still being younger than the league average player by nearly a full year.
Duran’s raw numbers were backed up by reports of his elite exit velocities. When he first cracked FanGraphs organizational rankings after his 2017 debut, they wrote about his recorded exit velocities of 112 mph as an 18-year-old. This past season Duran averaged 91.9 mph with his exit velocity in game action throughout the season. That number would have put him inside the top 20 of major league hitters.
Age is one of the factors considered by ZiPS. While playing his age-20 season at Short-Season A ball might not seem like rapid progress, Duran only signed as an 18 year old. He was introduced to organized baseball over two years later than many of his peers from the Dominican Republic. Highlighting Duran’s relative youth compared to his level of competition, last season only 34 of his plate appearances came against pitchers younger than him.
With three seasons under his belt, ZiPS will find a lot to love with Duran, as he has two individual seasons where he recorded a 220 and a 143 wRC+. Those numbers are going to be comparable to elite level prospects who have come before him, as he has largely been ahead of the competition he is facing.
One more important area where Duran showed a significant improvement this past season was his plate discipline. In his first two professional seasons, Duran only walked 4% of the time. His aggressive demeanor at the plate was exploited in 2018 by the pitchers of the Appalachian League. This season he increased his walk rate to 9%, against the higher level of pitching he faced with Short-Season Staten Island as part of his improved overall production.
Duran brings some incredible tools to the table as a middle infield prospect. FanGraphs may be the highest on him right now, but as his raw tools become more refined he should be on every scouts radar. What he has done to this point is registering on ZiPS, and that bodes well for his and the Yankees future.