Jeter Downs’ performance at the Arizona Fall League, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t the biggest deal in the world — nor should it be looked at as such.
But what the Boston Red Sox prospect has done so far during fall ball is an encouraging sign for the club as it gets set to enter a pivotal offseason. Regardless of how good the 2021 season went at the big league level, president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom insists this is still a longer-term project, and for the club to reach the maximum amount of success, it needs Downs to reach his ceiling.
It’s a terribly small sample size, but Downs’ grand slam Monday night was his fifth home run in six games out in the desert. It doesn’t mean Downs is ready for the big leagues, of course, but it must be viewed as a positive given the relative struggles Downs faced in 2021.
The 22-year-old, who entered the season as Baseball America’s No. 71 prospect, hit just .190 while playing in 99 games for Triple-A Worcester. He did showcase some pop, hitting 14 home runs with nine doubles, but obviously, expectations are much higher for the infielder acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the Mookie Betts trade.
However, any conversation about Downs’ 2021 showing in Worcester should be accompanied by the following caveat: He was 4 1/2 years younger than the average Triple-A player. It’s probably not a coincidence that he’s now raking in Arizona where the average age of his Scottsdale Scorpions is 22, and he’s just a half-year younger than the average age for the entire league.
It’s a needed reminder that Downs is still a terribly young player, who needs more seasoning. After missing the entire 2020 season due to the minor league baseball COVID-19 shutdown and then battling injuries while playing the highest level of affiliated ball this year, it’s understandable for Downs to fall short of lofty expectations — which isn’t to say he can’t still get there.
SoxProspects.com projects a late-2022 big league arrival for Downs. Time will tell whether that’s a little too aggressive. What can’t be denied, though, is Downs’ importance to the franchise. Second base feels like Christian Arroyo’s job to lose next season, but after that, the position looks wide open for the Red Sox. With one more year to develop in Worcester, might Downs be ready to take over the position full-time in 2023? Also looming is Xander Bogaerts’ contract situation, which could leave a gaping hole at shortstop in ’23 if all parties involved fail to reach an impasse.
If there was any apprehension about his future and ability to reach his potential, Downs’ extremely small sample size in Arizona is at least a reminder of what he’s capable of doing. There are a lot of moving parts as Bloom and the Red Sox continue their retool, and Downs is a potentially significant piece of that, either as a future core player or a potential key to acquiring someone who is.
At the very least, it’s a reminder the process continues for the Red Sox.