On Friday the Royals signed Ian Gac and Luis Durango to minor league deals. On Sunday I did a write up on Gac, which means that tonight it’s Durango’s turn to be profiled. Like Gac, Durango spent the 2012 season in the Braves organization but the similarities between the two end right there.
Now 26 years old, Luis Durango was signed out of Panama by the San Diego Padres on September 21st, 2003. He spent the first two seasons of his professional career in the Venezuela Summer League before making his debut stateside in 2006.
Once in the Arizona League, he impressed hitting 0.378/.470/.448 with 17 steals and more walks (23) than strikeouts (16) in 35 games played. After the conclusion of that 2006 season Baseball America ranked him as the #13 prospect in the AZL and cited that Durango’s trademarks are his “slap and dash skills.” The Padres bumped him up to Eugene in the Northwest League for the 2007 season and he had similar success with a 0.367/.422/.460 line with 17 SB, 29 BB and 32 SO in 69 games.
2008 proved to be another successful season for the diminutive outfielder. He opened the year playing for Fort Wayne (A) and finished it on a tear with Lake Elsinore (A+). Combined between the two levels he hit 0.328 and again wound up with an OBP comfortably above 0.400 – this time at 0.415. He made his way to Double-A in 2009 where he hit 0.281/.390/.309 in 129 games while swiping 44 bases. He yet again walked more than he struck out and made his major league debut in September. In nine games with San Diego he was 6-11 with 2 SB, 2 BB and 2 SO.
Durango reached the majors in both 2010 with the Padres (28 games) and 2011 with the Astros (2 games) but outside of that has spent 2010-2012 playing in Triple-A with a combined line of 0.283/.358/.321 in 346 games. This past season with Gwinnett he led the International League with 46 steals but he was caught 16 times and his 50/90 BB-K rate was the worst of his career.
When it comes to his tools, there is no questioning his speed. Durango has top-shelf speed. From 2006-2010 BA named him the fastest baserunner in the Padres’ system and this past season was named both the fastest baserunner and the best baserunner in the International League. Complementing his speed is his strike zone judgment and plate discipline that have allowed him to draw 368 walks in 752 minor league games while striking out only 396 times. The positives for Durango don’t just stop there as he also has a natural feel for making contact and is a career 0.308 hitter in the minors and 0.292 hitter in limited big league action. He’s at worst average defensively and has a now-average arm which has improved a great deal as a result of a throwing program he started early on in his pro career.
The big downside to Durango’s game is his non-existent power. He’s hit just 3 career HR and has only topped double-digits in doubles two times in his career. The lack of power isn’t a surprise considering that he’s 5’9″ and weighs just 155 lbs, but it does limit his role and potential impact on a major league roster.
In terms of stature and speed, he is very similar to Jarrod Dyson. Although JD has a better SB success rate, in all other ways Durango is the superior player of the two. He’s a year and a half younger, is a switch hitter, plays better defense, has superior contact skills and better plate discipline.
Based on all of that, I believe he will – or at least should – easily take Dyson’s place on the major league roster as he represents an upgrade in terms of talent and skill. Durango should be given every chance to take over as the Royals 4th/5th OF and late-game pinch runner in 2013. His addition makes the team better but it very well could cost Dyson his spot on the 40-man roster.