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Minor-league Depth Check: Second Base

Looking at the keystone position through the organization.

Jeter Downs
Kelly O’Connor; https://sittingstill.smugmug.com/

Among the weirdest parts of the 2020 season was that we didn’t get any minor-league season, and thus an entire season of development was lost for a whole lot of prospects. A few were able to participate in Pawtucket, but for the most part they were left on their own with just Zoom calls with coaches in the organization. Along with the lost development, players down on the farm have also fallen out of consciousness for some fans. That brings us to this series. Over the next two weeks, as we head into an offseason where the Red Sox may be looking to boost their farm system in some areas and trade out of it in others, we’re going to go position-by-position to reacclimate ourselves with the minor-leaguers all across the organization. Today, we look at the crop of second basemen.

Top Prospect

Jeter Downs

In yesterday’s post covering the first base prospects through the organization (linked below), I mentioned that Casas was arguably the top prospect in the system and held that title in my own opinion. Some, however, put Downs on that list. It’s not an unreasonable stance, either, particularly given that he plays a more premium position. The former Dodgers prospect, who came over in the Mookie Betts trade, has come up as a shortstop but evaluators have always seen a move to second base in his future, and that’s even more likely now with Xander Bogaerts ahead of him. He should be able to handle the keystone position well, though, playing better-than-average defense there. At short, his arm might have held him back a bit.

When we talk about Downs as a top 100 prospect and one of the top two in the organization, though, it’s not about the defense. It’s the bat. Downs always showed potential in his early years back when he was in the Reds organization, but after joining the Dodgers system in 2019 he took things to another level. The infielder started hitting for more power than ever and just generally was hitting everything with authority. It should be mentioned that most of his 2019 season was spent in the California League, one of the more favorable leagues for hitters in all of professional baseball, but he was even better in a short stint at Double-A to end that season.

Boston Red Sox Summer Workouts Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

He needs to be more consistent with his tools, and there’s more volatility in my eyes with his potential outcomes at the plate. That’s why I put Casas ahead of him on my own personal list. Even with that said, though, Downs has a huge ceiling and if everything clicks he’s a middle infielder with a better-than-average hit tool as well as an above-average power tool to go with above-average defense. That’s an All-Star. Again, it’s far from set in stone that he’ll be that guy, but the potential is there. Downs isn’t likely to be in the majors early in 2021, but could make his debut later in the year and potentially hold down the second base job as soon as 2022.

Sleeper Prospect

Cameron Cannon

Traditionally there’s not really such thing as a second base prospect as most players who end up at that position in the majors spend most of their time in the minors at shortstop. That makes it a little hard to find a sleeper, but Cannon isn’t a terrible option here. The former second round pick was actually the team’s first selection in the 2019 draft after their top pick was dropped ten spots, and he wasn’t even the best player they picked in that round. That would be shortstop Matthew Lugo. That kind of pushed Cannon off the radar a little bit, with more attention being paid to his flaws than his strengths.

Despite the lack of ceiling, though, there is a potential major-leaguer in this package of tools. Cannon will need to lean heavily on his hit tool if he’s going to make it, as the former Arizona Wildcat always showed an ability to hit for average in college. That didn’t really translate in 2019 in his first experience against professional pitching, though. There’s not really enough power there to make up for it, so he needs to find a way to get a lot of hits to make good. Defensively, he can and has played shortstop and third, which helps for a potential utility role which is likely the ceiling, but he profiles best at second base and will likely play there more often than not moving forward.

Others of Note

  • C.J. Chatham was added to the 40-man this past winter but never got his chance in the majors despite a lot of bad play at second all season. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he was taken off the roster altogether if they need room for Rule 5 prospects and/or free agents, but there’s still a solid floor here given his defense and solid-average hit tool.
  • Jonathan Araúz spent the entire season in the majors but still didn’t exhaust his rookie eligibility. The Rule 5 draftee last year made it through the entire season in the majors and now can be sent back down, likely to spend all or most of next year in Triple-A. He’s probably a bench piece long-term, but he showed solid poise for someone who had barely played above High-A before this season.
  • Brett Netzer being on this list reflects how shallow this position is, again because it’s generally a spot for failed shortstops. Netzer has moved his way up the ladder to Double-A thanks to his versatility and sporadic hit tool, but he’s unlikely to be much in the majors if he makes it there at all.
  • Nick Yorke is the other big name on this list along with Downs. The first round pick this past summer was seen as the biggest reach in the entire round, but the Red Sox love the hit tool from this kid taken out of high school in California. He got a short look at the Alternate Site against polished pitching and put up some really impressive at bats. He’s nominally a shortstop still, but most everyone agrees a move to second is coming sooner than later.