The Atlanta Braves used their 14th-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft to select infielder Caleb Durbin out of Washington University. No, not the University of Washington in Seattle, rather a small Division III school located in St. Louis.
Preseason report card
Durbin was a bit of a wild card coming into the season. He had shown excellent bat-to-ball skills in college, striking out 10 times in 438 plate appearances over his three-year college career. That is not a misprint, ten times in 438 PA, for a 2.3 percent strikeout rate. He posted a .642 OPS in 62 PA with the FCL Braves after signing, and while that wasn’t overly impressive in itself, he struck out just five times in those 62 PA to show the same high-level bat-to-ball skills he showed in college.
That said it can’t be forgotten that the jump from DIII baseball to pro ball is enormous for anyone, but that much harder for a hitter than a pitcher. DIIII pitchers just don’t have the raw stuff to be able to offer much of a test, so Durbin was a huge unknown coming into the year. For that reason he wasn’t ranked on our Top 30 prospect list entering the season.
Durbin is a guy known for his contact skills, solid running ability, and defensive versatility. His drawbacks, beyond the fact that he’s going to be jumping to a much higher competition level, are his lack of power as well as his lack of a set defensive home.
What we saw in 2022
Durbin opened the year in Low-A Augusta and more than held his own with the bat, slashing .249/.369/.388 with 15 doubles, a triple, and seven homers. He would walk 42 times while amassing 35 strikeouts in 333 plate appearances to go along with 28 stolen bases. Defensively, he split time all over in his 73 games with Augusta, making 32 starts at second, 24 at third, 16 at short, and one as the DH.
Durbin earned a promotion to High-A Rome in the middle of July, where he played his final 32 games. His bat slowed down a bit there, as he slashed .220/.307/.330 with seven doubles, a triple, and a homer. In this stint, for the first time in his pro or amateur career, he struck out more times than he walked, striking out 15 times while drawing eight walks in 124 plate appearances. Defensively he made 22 starts at second, five at third, one at short, and three as the DH.
Overall, Durbin combined for a .241/.352/.372 line with 22 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 50 walks to 50 strikeouts, and 31 steals in 36 attempts over 457 plate appearances.
Durbin will likely begin the 2023 season back with Rome, to see if he can make adjustments after some struggles in his small sample there. Should he be able to do so, a promotion to Double-A feels likely for him in his age-23 season. Durbin remains a guy to watch as a utility-type prospect with his contact ability, defensive versatility, and ability to swipe a base.