Tomase: Duvall’s full-time transition to center a perilous bet for Red Sox originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Of all the questions confronting the 2023 Red Sox, this one isn’t top of mind, but maybe it should be – how will Adam Duvall hold up over a full season in center field?
Very few players have pulled off what Duvall is attempting, which is to become an everyday center fielder at age 34. Hall of Famer Craig Biggio made the transition at age 37 for the 2003 Astros, and Mike Kingery did the same for the 1995 Rockies at age 34, and if there are any other recent examples, they’re rare.
Duvall has spent virtually his entire career in left and right field, where he won a Gold Glove in 2021, with a grand total of 75 games in center. All of them have come since he turned 31, making him the anomalous player that moves to the tougher position as he ages.
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That’s not necessarily a recipe for success. Last season in Atlanta, Duvall got off to a slow start offensively, hitting just .186. Then he shifted to left field in June and caught fire. Over his next 34 games, he smashed 10 homers with a .935 OPS before suffering a season-ending wrist injury while crashing awkwardly into a wall.
Now in spring training with that experience under his belt, Duvall believes he’ll be better equipped to handle the rigors of center, even in a challenging ballpark like Fenway.
“I put in a lot of work getting my legs built up in the offseason,” Duvall said. “We did a lot of sprint work, a lot of first-step, and then a lot of endurance stuff too, longer sprints, long sled pushes. You’re doing it at the end of a workout, where you’re tired. Just to be able to extend that a little bit and hopefully that will prepare me.”
The Braves knew they were taking a risk by making Duvall their everyday center fielder last year. Manager Brian Snitker admitted as much when he shifted him to the corner in June.
“I worried about that all winter, playing him in center field, because he’s such a big man,” Snitker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There’s a lot of running involved. . . I think the lessened physical toll should help him offensively.”
For his part, Duvall believes the timing of his offensive surge was more coincidental than anything. He noted that he struggled for the first two months of 2021 as well, playing mostly right field, before catching fire and finishing with 38 homers and an NL-leading 113 RBIs.
“The timing of it happened to be when I moved to the corner,” he said of last year’s hot streak. “I don’t know for sure if that was the cause. I felt like I was going to get hot one way or the other. It’s funny, because the year before, I had the same kind of slow start and for whatever reason, I got it going about the same time. I was excited, I was getting going, and then obviously the incident with the wall happened and my season was over. I felt like I was in a really good spot.”
As things stand now, barring the emergence of prospect Ceddanne Rafaela or the return of shortstop Kiké Hernández to the outfield, the Red Sox are short on dependable center fielders. Alex Verdugo is best suited to a corner, youngster Jarren Duran struggled to track the ball there last year, and non-roster invitee Raimel Tapia has primarily played left.
That leaves Duvall as the man. At a rugged 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, he may not be the prototypical center fielder, but he’s what the Red Sox have got.
“I prepared myself to be able to play center this year,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot.”