- Tim Burke
Why Jeter Downs Has a Bright Future
Red Sox Nation, we knew this trade was inevitable but it did not make it sting any less. Similar to any blockbuster, this trade is complex and has a lot of moving parts. My goal is to write about all the different angles of the trade. The Red Sox received three new players in this deal and I will be writing an introduction post for each of them. This post serves as an introduction to shortstop Jeter Downs. Yes, the Red Sox have Jeter on their side of the rivalry now.
Jeter Downs was ranked the 87th prospect in all of baseball by MLB pipeline. Downs had a successful 2019 season between A+ and AA hitting .276/.362/.888 with twenty four home runs to go along with eighty six RBIs and despite having average speed he stole twenty four bases last year. Downs natural position is shortstop but many believe due to limited range he better fits at second or third base. We are all aware the Red Sox need a future second baseman.
According to an article by Rob Bradford on WEEI, one scout he spoke with predicted Jeter Downs as a .260 hitter with fifteen to twenty home runs. He stated that he projects as an everyday player but does not have the highest of ceilings. Despite never seeing Downs play, I can tear this evaluation apart. I am not a scout. I am not getting paid to evaluate players. The scout Bradford talked to is more qualified than me to make an evaluation but this is why I believe his evaluation is simply lazy.
First off, Jeter Downs is only twenty years old, stating he does not have a high ceiling is ludacris. Players have the ability to improve their abilities while adapting to higher levels of play. This scout certainly has a fixed mindset. Secondly, there are signs that Jeter Downs could become a very good hitter. Two major things hitting coaches value in today’s game are hitting the ball in the air and making contact. Jeter Downs does both extremely well.
Downs’s 11.6% swing and miss rate in A+ and AA is a good sign. Simply putting the ball in the play is a useful skill that will lead to positive outcomes. Yes, it is the minor leagues and he will have to adapt to big league breaking balls which could completely change his swing and miss rate. Time is on Downs side as he is turning twenty two this year. He has plenty of time to adapt to big league breaking balls but will he? Scouts everywhere praise Downs for his ability to control the zone. Downs is very selective on which pitches he swings which was probably a factor in having an On Base Percentage close to 100 points higher than his batting average. He clearly has excellent hand eye coordination which will be beneficial when he attempts to adapt to better pitching.
According to Red Sox stats, Downs recorded the fifth lowest ground ball rate out of the 1,468 qualified minor league players in 2019. This tells us the right handed hitter will hit the ball in the air often, leading to a higher chance of an extra base hit when he makes contact (which he often does)
As the chart shows, Downs generates the majority of his power by pulling the ball. Last season, eighteen of his twenty four home runs were hit to left field. Picture how that will translate well if he ends up playing 81 games a season at Fenway Park where the Green Monster is only 310 feet away. The young infielder could potentially develop into an extra base hit machine at Fenway Park. America's most beloved ballpark seems to be made for Jeter Down to hit in.
In conclusion, this is what we know about Jeter Downs:
He has a higher probability of extra base hits when he makes contact due to high fly ball rate
His low swing and miss rate means he will often hit the ball in the play which could lead to more positive outcomes
He has a low ground ball rate decreasing the chances of negative outcomes such as grounding into double plays.
Aggressive base runner could lead to more scoring opportunities or outs
How does this translate to "not a player with a high ceiling" that is a dumb evaluation. The scout may be accurate on what player Downs develops into but his evaluation of Down's potential is lazy and subpar. Jeter Downs clearly has a high ceiling. The question is will he reach it? I believe he can.