Daniel Duarte is a selection from the Rangers in the the 2017 minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft held last December. Duarte played the 2018 season with the Idaho Falls Chukars, Lexington Legends, and the Tigres de Quintana Roo in his home country of Mexico in the Mexican League. Officially on March 31, the Royals loaned Duarte to the Tigres. He was sent back to the Royals on June 30 throwing 19.0 innings for the Tigres allowing 9 ER on 20 H, 8 BB, and 19 K. The Mexican League is said to be equivalent to either NWA or Omaha in their level of competition. On August 9, Duarte was sent to Lexington for the playoff push where he was a key component to their bullpen.
Duarte is described as having a clean arm by the Royals. I don’t know if he will get the chance to start in the future, but the Royals like him and have discussed it. Duarte throws what looks to be a four-pitch mix. He throws a fastball that has some arm side life to it working 92-94 and topping out at 96. Duarte tends to work up in the zone with his fastball but when he throws it down, it has good tilt. I wish he would work down more than he does. Duarte’s best secondary pitch in my eyes is his change up. It is very hard for LHHs to pick up and produced swings and misses. The change up has more run than the fastball and has a lot of downhill action as well. Lefties have a really hard time recognizing it. Duarte also throws a 12-6 type of curve that has good movement. The pitch can end up higher in the zone when he is trying to throw it for a strike and will roll when he does this. That usually results in a hard hit ball but when he breaks it out of the zone it really has good bite. As he develops better command of this and tightens up the roll when he is trying to throw it for a strike, the pitch will be really good. There is also a fourth pitch that Duarte throws that I think is supposed to be a cutter. It is between 84 and 88 mph and has glove side movement. It stays relatively flat with maybe 2 to 4 inches of vertical movement and about the same horizontally. It is also a fourth sign used by the catchers. I don’t think it is a slider because of the shape and lack of movement. But a cutter is usually closer to fastball velocity than this so that is why I have some pause on it. Either way, it needs to continue to develop both in control and movement so that it can become a serviceable pitch for him. If Duarte wants to be a starter, he will need this pitch to get better for him. If he moves to the pen full time, he may just scrap this and use the other three.
Duarte usually works quick during innings. In fact, I’ve noticed that his tempo often dictates his success. When he is working slower, he ends up leaving more pitches in hitting zones. When he is working quick, he has fast innings and pitches are crisper. This is true of a lot of pitchers in the minors.
Duarte starts with his shoulders square to the plate and his left foot in front of the rubber. He takes a small, sideways rocker step before his leg lift. He does this slower than a lot of guys and it almost lulls a hitter to sleep before the ball explodes out of his hand. In the looks I got of him in the stretch, he seems to have an average pick move to first and second, and holds runners decent.
Duarte is an interesting guy who has had a lot of improvement over the last several years. It’s part of why the Royals took him. Last year out of the pen, his ERA was 1.05 in 25.2 innings of affiliated ball. Duarte allowed just 3 ER, 8 BB, and 20 H between Idaho Falls and Lexington. He held RHHs to a .105 average while LHHs were at .273. The WHIP was impressive at 1.09 with a ground ball to fly ball ratio of almost 2 to 1. Duarte racked up 25 K or just about 1 per inning.
Duarte seems to be a good fielder on bunts. He also does a good job of getting to first base on ground balls to the right side. At times, he does seem to get a little lackadaisical on his underhand tosses to first as he takes a few steps toward first on come backers before making the toss.
Even though he is already 21, the Royals think that Duarte has a solid future and could possibly end up in a rotation. Duarte could also end up as a solid option out of the bullpen. I think he’ll open next season at Lexington before moving up to Wilmington and possibly NWA by the end of the year. I hope he gets a chance to start so we can see if he can be a viable starting pitcher but this will slow his movement though the system. With the sudden depth of starting pitching in the lower levels, he could move quicker in the bullpen than the rotation. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Royals decided to move him quicker and start him at a higher level. Duarte is still a long way from the majors but could find him self there sooner rather than later.