Jeter Downs offers further hope that one day, Mookie Betts trade won't be so one-sided

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
John Tomase
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Tomase: Could Jeter Downs help Red Sox salvage Betts trade? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

It's hard to imagine the Red Sox ever declaring victory in the Mookie Betts trade. The former MVP may yet be a future one, too, and it only took him 60 games to deliver a World Series to the Dodgers. Don't be surprised if there's more where that came from.

That said, we already know enough to say the deal won't be hopelessly one-sided. Outfielder Alex Verdugo may never be Betts, but he proved last year that he could be an All-Star. And on Sunday, another piece of that trade continued to suggest he'll one day call Boston home, too.

Infield prospect Jeter Downs wasted no time opening eyes by homering to right field in his spring debut. Manager Alex Cora already had spent a couple of weeks watching Downs on the back fields in Fort Myers, but seeing him in game action provided new insights into a player who could be an everyday contributor to the next great Red Sox team.

Tomase: Verdugo has some interesting ideas about how to save baseball

"It's something about, like, slowing down the game that it seems like it's natural for him," Cora said on Monday. "It's a slow pace, slow heartbeat."

A consensus top-50 prospect, Downs is considered the best player in the Red Sox system by Keith Law of The Athletic, and he ranks No. 2 to Triston Casas on the Baseball America and MLB Pipeline lists.

The last time Downs played competitively, in 2019, the former Cincinnati Reds first-round pick had really put himself on the prospect map by slamming 24 homers and reaching Double-A at age 21. Then came a whirlwind 2020 that saw him traded to the Red Sox as part of the package for Betts, but only after the original deal, centering around Twins reliever Brusdar Graterol, had collapsed over iffy medicals.

Exit Graterol, who instead went to the Dodgers, and enter Downs, who was just getting to know his new Red Sox teammates last spring when the pandemic put a halt to the season. Though he spent the summer working out and scrimmaging at the alternate site in Pawtucket, there's no replacement for competitive game action, and Downs made the most of his 2021 debut on Sunday vs. the Twins.

"He crushed that ball to right field," Cora said. "He did. Then the next at-bat, it was a good swing up the middle."

By that point, Downs had already caught his new manager's eye.

"Two days ago, we were having that simulated game with Eduardo (Rodriguez) on the mound," Cora said. "For how cool and smooth as he is, someone hit a rocket, I think it was Marwin (Gonzalez), to his right, and right away, he dove for it. So, it's there. He gets it.

"He worked out a lot this offseason with Jon Jay, like I told you guys. Jon is one of my favorite players, not only in the big leagues but from the program that we played for. The mental side of it, how you prepare, how you go about your business, that was something that he kept preaching to Jeter. He's really good. He's part of the future."

Disciplined Downs

Downs' 2019 strikeout rate (11th-lowest in High-A California League)

17.9

Variation

Single

Seeing as Downs has yet to play above Double-A, there's no reason to rush the 22-year-old to the big leagues. But it's important to expose him to big league pitching this spring and give him a taste of the game at the highest level.

"It's a different pace, but it doesn't seem like it's going to be too fast for him," Cora said. "That's cool to see."

And who knows? Maybe one day that Betts trade won't look so terrible for Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox. Verdugo already looks like a valuable piece of the present, and it's possible Downs isn't far behind, as Cora recently discussed with Jason Varitek.

"I was joking with 'Tek that those two kids, they're making Chaim look smarter than a year and a half ago," Cora said.