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Red Sox Top Prospect Voting: Jeter Downs has time to bounce back

It was a tough 2021, but there’s still potential here.

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Jeter Downs
Kelly O’Connor

Folks, we had a tie in the last round. It’s not something that happens very often, but every once in a while we get two players with the same number of votes, so let me explain how the ultimate winner is decided. For this early in the vote, I look to the consensus top prospect rankings, which made this one a bit easier. When we get a bit deeper, if/when this happens and players aren’t on that list, then I’ll turn it to a staff vote. But like I said, this time the players were on the consensus list, with Jeter Downs edging out Blaze Jordan after both received 30 percent of the vote last time around. Downs is sixth on that consensus list while Jordan is seventh. Here, Downs comes in at number seven on our list.

Downs also has the distinction of being the first player on this list who was not drafted or originally signed by the Boston Red Sox organization. Instead, Downs first entered professional ball as a competitive balance round A pick from the Cincinnati Reds in the 2017 draft. Coming out of high school, he spent that first professional summer in Rookie Ball, hitting .267/.370/.424. That was enough to get him promoted to full-season ball for his first full season as a pro, and in A-Ball in 2018 Downs hit .257/.351/.402. While the line is actually worse there, adjusting for league averages he was actually better in 2018 than 2017.

And that performance in 2018 also led him to being part of a package sent out west to bring pitching back to the Reds. In the offseason following that 2018 campaign, Downs was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal that was largely done for luxury tax purposes from the Dodgers perspective, with them sending Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood to the Reds. Downs would break out in that 2019 season, hitting .269/.354/.507 in High-A before a late-season promotion to Double-A in what was just his age-20 season. The sample was small in Double-A, but Downs still put up good numbers in that cup of coffee.

That brings us to the following offseason, and I think we all know what happened at that point. After the original Mookie Betts trade was nixed when the Red Sox didn’t like Brusdar Graterol’s physical, the deal made Downs the top prospect coming back to Boston in that deal. It was his second time traded in as many offseasons, which can be seen as a negative, though the second time he was the top prospect in a trade for a top five player in the game, so excitement was still warranted about his potential.

Of course, we never really got to see him in that first season in the organization, though he was down at the Alternate Site. It is worth mentioning, too, that the reviews from Pawtucket that summer weren’t great, though given what a strange situation it was, it was hard to tell how much stock to put into it. We wouldn’t really know how to judge it until we saw him in action in 2021.

That season saw Downs start the year up at Triple-A in Worcester, and it’s really hard to judge how aggressive of a placement that was. On the one hand, he was in his age-22 season and had only played 12 games as high as Double-A. On the other hand, he was now a year and a half older than he was when he got that taste of Double-A. In hindsight it might feel like an aggressive promotion, but at the time it seemed reasonable to me so it’s not something I can really criticize the organization for, I don’t think.

Anyway, things did not go well for Downs, as you can probably surmise from that previous paragraph. The infielder struggled to make contact against Triple-A pitching, and his entire batting line suffered for it. By the end of the season, Downs was hitting .190/.272/.333 for a 62 wRC+, putting him well below league-average. He would also head to the Arizona Fall League where he hit a bit of a hot streak, but it wasn’t enough to wash away the performance in the regular season.

Scottsdale Scorpions v Glendale Desert Dogs Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

As we look at the scouting report here, the questions that need to be answered are clear, but there is still plenty of upside. In terms of the questions, it’s all about making contact. Downs struck out 32 percent of the time at Triple-A, and that kind of swing and miss just isn’t going to translate to the majors. Yes, good players can strike out a lot in today’s era of the league, but when they strike out that much in Triple-A it’s hard to imagine there being enough contact against major-league pitching to make an impact around all those strikeouts.

That said, it was just one season after a long layoff of organized, affiliated game action. Downs is still only entering his age-23 season, and while the ceiling has probably dropped a bit after that season there are still tools for a starting infielder in there. When he is in a zone and not expanding the zone but rather staying back on pitches in the zone, he has above-average power and can just generally hit the ball hard to keep his batting average on balls in play up. On top of that, he is a good baserunner despite not really being a burner in the traditional sense, and he can stick in the middle infield, though he’s much better suited for second base than shortstop.

The coming season is a true crossroads sort of year for Downs, who has a chance to put himself back in the national spotlight with a bounce-back performance. More importantly, looking at the current second base depth chart for Boston, there is a realistic chance for him to get a legitimate chance in the majors if he can get off to a good start and keep it going for a couple of months. The strikeout issues are a concern and there is real bust potential here, but one bad season doesn’t mean he should be written off completely, especially considering some of his other tools.

Here is our list so far:

  1. Triston Casas, 1B
  2. Marcelo Mayer, SS
  3. Nick Yorke, 2B
  4. Jarren Duran, OF
  5. Brayan Bello, RHP
  6. Bryan Mata, RHP
  7. Jeter Downs, 2B/SS

Now, you can head down into the comments and vote for the number eight prospect. As a reminder, to do this you go down below and find the comment from me corresponding with the player for whom you’d like to vote. When you find said player, just click the “rec” button, and that will count your vote. To do this, you will need to be logged in as a member of the site. If you’d like to vote for a player who is not listed, just leave a comment saying “Vote for ___ here” and I’ll rec the comment to count your vote. We encourage discussion, of course, but please don’t comment under specific players’ names. Instead, scroll to the bottom to start a new comment thread in order to keep the players at the top of the comment section. Until next time...