Five days after promoting one highly regarded infielder acquired in the Joey Gallo trade last July, the Rangers are calling up another. Josh Smith reached base 10 times in his first five games but left Friday night’s game against the Mariners with a sore left shoulder before going on the injured list, so now Ezequiel Duran will get a chance to show what he can do.
Ranked No. 76 on the Top 100 Prospects list, the 23-year-old Duran will start at third base and bat sixth against Seattle on Saturday. He’s making the jump from Double-A, where he was batting .317/.365/.374 with seven homers and as many steals in 45 games. He leads all of the Minor Leagues in doubles (24) and extra-base hits (32), and his 105 total bases are fifth in the Texas League.
Duran initially became eligible to sign out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2015, but problems with his registration process meant that he didn’t turn pro until 2017, when he landed a mere $10,000 bonus from the Yankees. He played briefly in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, struggled in his U.S. debut the following year but broke out in 2019 by leading the short-season New York-Penn League with 13 homers in 66 games.
Although the pandemic cancelled the 2020 Minor League season, Duran stood out in New York’s Dominican instructional league program that fall, then tore up High-A in the first half of 2021. He switched organizations in July, coming to Texas along with Smith, Glenn Otto and outfield prospect Trevor Hauver in exchange for Gallo and Joely Rodríguez. With Gallo struggling terribly since the deal and Rodríguez now with the Mets, the trade could work out extremely one-sided in favor of the Rangers.
Despite standing just 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Duran has exceptionally strong hands and wrists that create explosive bat speed and produce high exit velocities from the right side of the plate. A career .267/.329/.483 hitter in the Minors, he makes the most of his raw power with an approach that focuses on launching balls in the air to his pull side.
Duran is definitely a power-over-hit guy and won’t draw many walks, but he continues to improve his pitch recognition and swing decisions. His strikeout rate this year is 18 percent, a career best and down from 27 percent in his first four pro seasons.
While his offensive upside is the most attractive part of Duran’s package, he should have average or better tools across the board. He has average speed and is as aggressive on the bases as he is at the plate, so he could produce 15 steals on an annual basis.
Duran played predominantly at second base in the Yankees system, then spent most of his time at shortstop last summer following the trade before primarily manning third base in the Arizona Fall League. He has played all three positions this season, and versatility will help his cause after Texas invested $500 million in free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.
Duran’s best defensive traits are his quick hands and solid arm strength, though his lateral range is a bit stretched at shortstop. He’s best suited for third base, though the Rangers’ top position prospect (Josh Jung) plays that position. He also should be capable of playing the outfield corners if needed.
Smith’s callup came on the heels of Brad Miller going on the injured list with a right hip impingement. Though Duran’s first taste of the big leagues may not last longer than it takes Miller and/or Smith to return to health, he’s definitely a big part of the future in Texas.