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Yankees 2021 Prospects Preview: Ezequiel Duran

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After leading the New York-Penn League in home runs, Ezequiel Duran is ready for his encore performance

MLB: New York Yankees-Media Day USA TODAY NETWORK

After failing to register with Major League Baseball in 2015 ahead of international free agency, Ezequiel Duran was unable to sign with any major league team after reaching his 16th birthday. As he worked out his paperwork issues, he fell off the radar of teams that had previously been interested in the talented young player. Not until two years later did he sign with the Yankees and begin to emerge as a serious prospect of note.

After signing with the Yankees in 2017, Duran immediately showed his potential by racking up a 222 wRC+ in the Dominican Summer League. That performance included elite exit velocities of over 110 mph in game action and giving scouts a glimpse of his power potential. The Yankees aggressively promoted Duran in 2018 to Rookie-Advanced Pulaski, where his free-swinging approach at the plate was exploited by the higher level of pitching.

However, while many young players have put up strong numbers in the DSL, only to falter and never adjust to superior pitching, Duran showed the ability to adjust in 2019 and reestablished himself as one of the Yankees’ most exciting prospects.

2019 Stats (Short-Season A): 277 PA, .256/.329/.496, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 27.8 K%, 9.0 BB%

2021 Stats (Spring Training): 15 PA, .286/.333/.357, 2B, 7 K

Prospect Ranking (Yankees System): 15 (MLB.com), 8 (FanGraphs), 11 (Baseball America)

Six games into the 2019 season, Duran again looked overmatched, as he struck out 14 times in his first 6 games. After the initial struggles Duran adjusted and quickly became one of the biggest offensive forces in the New York-Penn League.

Duran would go on to lead the league with 13 home runs in 2019. Following his disastrous six-game start, he would produce a 149 wRC+ the rest of way, finishing top 10 in the league in numerous offensive categories. He reportedly averaged a 91.9-mph exit velocity on his balls in play, again showing his ability to create hard contract. FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections rank him as the 84th-best prospect in baseball, based on his strong track record.

Playing up the middle alongside Josh Smith, the Yankees’ second-round pick from 2019, they formed one of the best top of the orders and middle infields in the league.

Prior to reaching the New York-Penn League, scouting reports often questioned Duran’s ability to remain up the middle defensively as a second baseman. He answered that question during the season and showed enough range and arm strength that several current scouting reports state that he could cover shortstop if the Yankees needed him to. During a 2021 spring training game, longtime Yankees radio announcer Suzyn Waldman stated that the Yankees were getting Duran reps at shortstop during the spring.

After losing the 2020 minor league season due to the pandemic, the Yankees invited Duran to their December instructional camp in the Dominican Republic. He showed the team enough progress to earn an invitation to spring training despite never playing above the Short Season-A level.

Duran could start the 2021 campaign for Low-A Tampa, or more likely, High-A Hudson Valley. The Yankees have numerous highly regarded middle infield prospects in A-ball, and a strong performance could land Duran in Double-A by the end of the year.

After improving his walk rate in 2019, the Yankees will want to see Duran continue to refine his approach at the plate. As he faces higher levels of pitching, he will have to maintain or even cut down on his strikeout rate if he is going to continue working towards the major leagues. The Yankees may also test him defensively, as versatility will help his bat continue to move through the minors and find playing time. While shortstop has been mentioned multiple times, it is also possible that Duran finds himself at third base, a position where the Yankees do not have many highly ranked prospects in the system.

Ezequiel Duran can create some of the hardest contact in the Yankees minor league system. He has the potential to become a impact bat up the middle if he continues to develop his game. The Yankees displayed their confidence in his abilities with an invitation to spring training and he will have the chance to become one of their top prospects if he can produce a strong season.