In his rookie ball days, Osvaldo Duarte was a relatively hyped prospect known for setting stopwatches ablaze, with some feel for hitting. The latter stagnated early on, as his game showed an alarming amount of swing and miss in full-season play. He was able to produce fairly well in spite of it with Quad Cities in 2016, slashing .272/.321/.422 with fifteen steals, though he was caught 9 times. This performance at age 20 earned him a promotion to High-A Lancaster, where he saw his development stall.
His strikeout rate with the JetHawks ballooned to 34% and he reached base at just a .290 clip, though he did manage seven homers in what is known as perhaps the most offense-friendly home park in the minors. These struggles prompted the team to assign him back to Low-A to start 2017, where he showed a more patient approach, walking at a 12.8% clip, but hitting just .194. He was moved back up to the High-A level later that season, this time in the Carolina League with Buies Creek, and he struggled mightily. With BC he struck out in 35.2% of his trips, hit .190, and had an ISO of just .070.
Things appeared to be going off the rails a bit for Duarte at this point. He had displayed the ability to play multiple positions across the diamond adequately, and his speed remained well above average, but his swing and miss issues remained persistent, and while he was a great home-to-first runner, his stolen base rates were consistently weak. In 2018 he was assigned to Buies Creek again, and while it represented his third trip to High-A ball, the first taste was in the Cal League, a unique environment, and both previous stints had started with midseason promotions. He seemed to settle into the level in 2018, trimming his strikeouts to a manageable 22.4% while also walking at an 8.2% clip, his best mark in High-A play. He also stole a career-high 21 bases, but again was caught an alarming clip, as those swipes came across 40 attempts. Regardless, it was an encouraging bounceback for a prospect who had been mired in an offensive slump for the better part of two years, and solidified the speedster’s place on the radar, even earning a nod as the organization’s 35th best prospect on FanGraphs’ list.
Duarte has played center field, short, second and third in the minors and is very capable at both middle infield spots. He’s known for playing hard and projects very favorably in a utility role. Despite meeting some setbacks in his development, Duarte is still just 23 and more or less age-appropriate at the Double-A level. Assuming he maintains his approach improvements from 2018, the biggest point of emphasis for Duarte will be shoring up his timing and technique on the basepaths to generate more value with his considerable straight-line ability.
While it doesn’t appear that he’s likely to hit enough to make himself a regular at the big league level, the skillset is there for Duarte to be a useful piece who can slot into the bottom of the order at just about any defensive spot, pinch run, or enter games as a defensive replacement. Thus far with Corpus, Duarte appears comfortable- the swiss army knife is 2 for 5 with a homer, double and walk in the Hooks’ first two contests, and has struck out just once in those games. He’s been hitting in the 9 hole, but with continued success, the Astros might want to see what he can do with a few more plate appearances. There’s a bit of helium potential here, and Duarte is one of the players outside the top 30 that I am monitoring most closely in the early going.