John Tomase

Duran, Houck make MLB All-Star cases for each other, Wong

The Red Sox could have as many as three or four All-Stars in 2024.

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The Red Sox fielded one All-Star last year – closer Kenley Jansen – because those are the rules. Every team must be represented, no matter how uninspiring their roster.

That won't be a problem this season. The Red Sox boast five legitimate All-Star candidates, and even if they'll likely only send two or three selections to this year's game in Texas, it's a sign of their growth as an organization that options suddenly exist beyond Jansen and fellow veteran Rafael Devers.

Of particular interest are their three first-time candidates. Entering the season, no one would have pegged Jarren Duran, Tanner Houck, or Connor Wong as All-Stars. But as selection Sunday looms, all three have a chance to represent the Red Sox in the midsummer classic.

What kind of case would they make for each other? We put the question to Houck and Duran last week while Wong was on paternity leave, and each sounded more excited to advocate for the others than himself.

Start with Houck. Until delivering his worst start of the season on Saturday vs. the Padres, he was leading the American League in ERA and looked like a candidate to start the game. Even after allowing eight runs in just 4.1 innings, he still remains a safe bet to make the squad. He's 7-6 with a 2.76 ERA as the rock of Alex Cora's rotation.

"He goes out there every single day and competes," Duran said. "Even when he gives up a run or something, he comes back and shoves it, and he does it every single time he goes out there. He never looks overwhelmed. He never looks like the moment is too big for him. He always stays calm and he's always doing his thing."

Saturday's start marked the first time all season that Houck hadn't pitched into the sixth inning. In today's game, that practically makes him Old Hoss Radbourn. He evokes Derek Lowe or Justin Masterson with his lanky build and east-west delivery, and the Red Sox would be positively hosed without him.

"When he's on the mound, we have confidence as a team," Duran said. "If he gives up one or two, it's like, 'Oh dude, that's all they're gonna get.' That's the kind of mindset we have. We can definitely do a lot of damage for him. Because we know if we do damage, he's going to hold them down for us."

Then there's Duran. The speedy outfielder has emerged as one of the most dynamic players in the American League. He currently leads the AL in doubles (23) and triples (10), and that's no accident. Both numbers are partly a product of his game-breaking speed, which has produced 20 steals, too.

"He's an absolute problem child on the bases," Houck said. "With that speed, you've got to respect him at first. He turns singles into doubles. He turns what are normal doubles into triples. And his defense has taken an incredible leap forward, literally. But for a guy that was drafted out of college as a second baseman, to be able to pick up a position in that amount of time, especially a major position like center field, and then obviously as well, he's hitting .280 with (9) home runs, ton of bags, leading the league in triples, top five in total bases, top five in WAR. I think he's well beyond deserving of going to the All-Star Game."

Jarren Duran
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Red Sox outfielder Jarren Duran ranks sixth in the AL with 20 steals.

That leaves Wong. He's the longest shot of the three to make the squad, especially since Devers will likely earn a nod and the Red Sox probably haven't earned four All-Stars. But he leads all AL catchers in average (.327) and OPS (.856), and he has nabbed 26 percent of opposing base stealers, too.

Add the fact that he's one of the most athletic catchers in baseball, and the only remaining piece of the Mookie Betts trade looks like a keeper.

"Whenever he hits a ground ball to short and they have to backhand it, I always think he's going to beat it," Duran said. "He's way faster than people think, so when he gets going, he's got that top-end speed. It's super cool to see."

Added Houck: "You can look at all the analytical things, but it's the running bases, behind the plate, the stuff you can't track analytically, that adds up. It's taking the extra 90 feet due to his speed. It's being able to steal bags. It's the arm throwing people out. That's my case for him."

With the Red Sox awaiting the arrival of prospects Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel, sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the next generation has already started arriving in the form of this big league trio with designs on wearing an All-Star uniform in just a couple of weeks.

"It's a young, dynamic team," Houck said. "We all came up as babies in this league and kind of worked our way through it, through the good, through the bad. We have a lot of guys with under three years of service time that are making impacts in their way. This is a very unforgiving game, and I think we've got a very fun, young team up here. With those (prospects) coming up, hopefully it's going to get even better."

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