Jeter Downs is no stranger to uncertain times.The top Red Sox prospect was embarking on the challenge of joining his third organization in the last two years this spring. Of course, that was before baseball was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. But while teams, players and fans anxiously wait on
Jeter Downs is no stranger to uncertain times.
The top Red Sox prospect was embarking on the challenge of joining his third organization in the last two years this spring. Of course, that was before baseball was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. But while teams, players and fans anxiously wait on official word as to if and when games resume, there is no trace of panic or frustration — or even tension — from the 21-year-old. Not in the slightest.
Instead, anchored by his faith, Downs is wholeheartedly embracing these surreal circumstances and the unique set of opportunities they present.
“Look, there is nowhere I’d rather be than out there on a baseball field, but if you sit around and mope, nothing good is going to come out of it,” Downs said. “So I’m looking at the bright side of this right now. When will we ever get a time like this again? When you can just be home with your family and your loved ones and not have to worry about them. Just be together and enjoy time together without other distractions. … I probably won’t get a time like this again in my lifetime. So I’m just trying to enjoy every single moment and take it all in. Like I said, I would rather be on a field right now, but I believe everything happens for a reason and that it all works out for the best.”
Selected by the Reds out of Monsignor Pace High School in Miami Gardens with the 32nd overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Downs opened his professional career as a 17-year-old with Rookie Advanced Billings. In 50 Pioneer League games, the middle infielder posted a .267/.370/.424 slash line with 12 extra-base hits, 31 runs scored and 29 RBIs.
That effort earned him a promotion to Class A Dayton, where he spent his entire sophomore season and continued to climb the organization’s prospect rankings. Downs batted .257 with 13 dingers, 23 doubles, 47 RBIs, 63 runs scored and 52 walks in 120 Midwest League contests.
That December, he was a pivotal piece in a blockbuster seven-player deal with the Dodgers that sent big league All-Star Yasiel Puig to Cincinnati.
“You can’t really … I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just something that happens,” Downs said of learning he was traded to LA. “And that time it was really surprising because it just kind of happened out of the blue. But this last time, I was able to mentally prepare myself for it.”
Downs opened eyes with his performance last year, his sole season with the Dodgers organization. Starting the campaign with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder displayed the ability to not only hit for power but spray the ball to all parts of the field as he launched a career-best 19 taters and smacked 33 doubles while driving in 75 runs and scoring 78 times in 107 games with the Quakes. He earned California League midseason All-Star honors and — less than a month after turning 21 — was promoted on Aug. 20 to Double-A Tulsa, where he finished the regular season and helped lead the Drillers to the Texas League Finals. In Game 2 of the Championship Series, Downs smashed three homers as part of a four-hit night that carried Tulsa to an 18-9 victory.
Seemingly blocked at the major league level in LA, and with rumors swirling about another imminent mega-deal, Downs was arguably the most talked about prospect over the winter. After an initial three-team trade proposal fell through, the revised trade between the Red Sox and Dodgers sent Downs to Boston as part of the package that sent 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts to Hollywood on Feb. 10.
“I can’t say I definitely knew this one was going to happen, but I set myself up for it,” Downs said. “I heard talks were going on all offseason and once rumors started that it was for Betts, I knew there was obviously going to be a big return, so I just looked at it like that. If I get traded for Mookie, that’s a great honor and really, there is nothing you can do about it. So just put your head down and keep working. And if it happens you go into your new organization, meet everyone, see how everything works and just go out and play the game.
“At the end of the day, if I get traded for Babe Ruth, what good is it if I don’t go out there and do my job?”
Shortly after the swap was completed, Downs was invited to big league camp with his new team. He said he was immediately welcomed with open arms — and a familiar face. Downs’ older brother, Jerry, was taken in the 15th round of the 2015 Draft and spent his entire five-year career in the Red Sox organization. The first baseman last year reached Double-A Portland, where he batted .176/.270/.275 in 55 games. Jeter and Jerry train together in South Florida each winter.
“He’s somebody that some of our scouts and people in the front office have liked for quite a while,” Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett said. “Anytime you bring someone in with his type of skill set, you’re excited to do that. He’s a really impressive kid: good athlete, loose, powerful swing, great character, willing to work and willing to listen.”
In 11 games in his first Major League camp, the younger Downs went 3-for-17 with four walks, an RBI and a run scored. He made nine appearances at shortstop and a pair at second base, committing one error in 27 total chances. He was assigned to Minor League camp on March 8.
As far as any concern over losing the momentum he built with his performance at the end of last season, as well as getting comfortable with his new surroundings, Downs said simply there was none.
“That’s what we play the game for, to get better each and every day,” he said. “There’s always gonna be things to work on and things that come up. But it’s about adjustments. Teams make adjustments, players make adjustments, it’s really a game of adjustments. You can’t focus on the game before, good or bad, just go out there each day and battle. Last year, things came together, thank God. All of the work we put in every day, the little details here and there, it all came together and it felt good. But that doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen this year. You don’t get to just go out there and do it all over again. … In the end, the next day, the next challenge will always be harder.
“So I look at this as extra time to focus on those little details that you didn’t have the time to in Spring Training already. The new things to work on that kind of slip by when you’re busy playing games each and every day. So, right now, this is my mindset: this is my chance to get better at other little things that I need to perform at the level that I expect from myself. … If you get into thinking about starting over, it creates a negative mindset, and that makes it harder to rev back up when things start going again. But whenever that day comes we’ll have extended Spring Training, I’ll still be able to work and get my stuff in and be ready. The way I see it, I’ve been blessed so far, and that is how I’m going to continue to look at this situation and life.”
With the Red Sox continuing to search for a long-term solution at second base, and Downs’ ability to pull the ball from the right side of the plate, it may not take long after baseball activities resume that he could see the curtain go up on his opportunity in The Show.
“We’re excited to work with Jeter and excited to get the type of depth that he provides and we’re excited to get our journey together going,” Crockett said. “I think at this point we just want to get him in the system and see him play a little more. I don’t think it’s fair to look too far ahead right now. This is a challenging time for all players, but once we all get back together we’ll look forward to continuing together.”
In the meantime, Downs is certain that these uncertain times will serve him well.
“It’s just a testament — tomorrow is not guaranteed, so you’ve gotta take this experience to the fullest and not take things for granted,” he said. “So I’m going to enjoy what’s being thrown at me right now and enjoy the process and make the most out of every situation that presents itself. And when it’s time to get back on the field, I’ll be ready.”
Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RobTnova24.