One year ago he was one of the hottest names in camp. For that, Jeter Downs could thank Mookie Betts.
Downs was one of three players coming back for the potential future Hall-of-Famer, joining Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong. And adding to the interest was that the infielder had replaced pitcher Brusdar Graterol in the deal, a player who went on to contribute to the Dodgers' world championship with a 100 mph fastball.
But 2020 came and went with the Downs conversation dwindling. There wasn't a whole lot of buzz coming from the 22-year-old, for better or worse. He was learning a new position at second base, while finding more consistency against a higher level of pitching.
Then came Sunday.
Downs offered a reminder why he is considered the organization's second highest-rated prospect, and 49th overall in baseball (by MLB Pipeline).
Coming in at shortstop for Kiké Hernandez, Downs finished his day against the Twins with two hits, including a two-run homer.
"He’s a good player," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora after his team's Grapefruit League-opening loss to the Twins. "Everybody knows him. We like him a lot. Slow heartbeat, it seems like. Even during the drills, put a good swing on it there, going opposite field and sat on a breaking ball up the middle. He’s part of the future. We know that. Very happy he was able to perform. We saw a lot of positives today. We put some good at-bats, Wong was outstanding behind the plate. All around, obviously, we didn’t make two plays. We have to make those. The rundown, that’s a free out. The double play, I don’t know if we get two with gordon but we have to get one and move on to the next play.”
As Cora noted, Downs has a future with the Red Sox. It's just a matter of what kind of future we're talking about.
Most believed he would be next in line to replace Dustin Pedroia as the long-term second baseman despite Downs coming up at a shortstop. And then there is the possibility that Xander Bogaerts opts-out of his current deal after 2022, immediately making Downs the favorite to take over that position.
Downs will almost certainly begin the season in Worcester, but Sunday was a reminder that he represents a significant piece of the Red Sox' puzzle going forward.
“He (Alfonso Otero, Jeter's former coach with SLAM in Miami) knows me from UM (University of Miami) so he knows the way I play defense and he talked great things about him (Downs),” Cora said. “Actually, Jeter worked out with (major leaguer) Jon Jay, too, during the offseason. So I have a head start. I’ve got a good feel about him. But I want to see him. We’ve just got to let him play. Defensively, it seems like the game comes easy for him. Sometimes too easy and maybe that’s where he makes errors or the lack of concentration happens. First of all, we have to learn the player.”