DENVER — The Mile High City can leave you winded. While home here are oftentimes tape-measure shots, the body that delivers it can feel its share of exhaustion due to the city’s high altitude and dry air. There’s an adjustment period, of course.
So, when Jeter Downs stood at the top step of the visitors’ clubhouse at Coors Field late Sunday morning following batting practice and some infield work, it was no surprise the Red Sox top prospect aimed to catch his breath.
Downs, though, is beginning to learn what it means to adjust.
Downs — alongside pitching prospect Brayan Bello — represented the Red Sox in Sunday’s Futures Game. This is despite Downs’s forgettable season thus far where he’s hitting .234/.309/.377 in 44 games for Triple A Worcester. Downs admitted that getting acclimated to Triple A has been tough after a lost minor league season in 2020 due to COVID-19 .
“I’ve been gradually getting better,” Downssaid prior to his team’s matchup against the National League. “I feel like I’m getting back to my old self in a sense. For like a year of not playing at all, just moving like this, you are getting your body used to playing So that’s definitely one of the things I feel like I’m getting back to.”
During the game, you saw a glimpse of what Downs brings to the table. His bat speed, one of his greatest gifts, was certainly on display. In Downs’s first at-bat, he negotiated a nine-pitch battle against Nationals top prospect Cade Cavalli. Cavalli registered the highest velocity out of all pitchers who pitched Sunday, topping out at 100-m.p.h. Downs saw 100 four times. Each time he fouled it off. Downs did swing through a 99-m.p.h. offering from Cavalli in the third pitch of the at-bat, however, that came after he fouled off another heat at the same speed on the previous pitch. On the ninth and final pitch Downs chased a changeup in the dirt.
During his second at-bat, Downs further proved his tantalizing bat speed. Brewers southpaw Ethan Small attempted to challenge Downs high and tight with a fastball. Yet the 92-m.p.h fastball proved no match for Downs who crushed a two-run double to left which one-hopped the wall. It was two of the three runs the AL would score in their 8-3 loss.
Downs called it an honor to be amongst the game’s most elite players and knows there’s a lot of season left for him to play as he now makes his way back to Worcester.
“I know it’s a long season,” Downs said. “And we’re still super-early in the year. I know when it’s all said and done everything will fall into place. I try to stay focused every single day going out.”
Bello came in for relief during the middle of the third inning with a runner on second. Cardinals prospect Nolan Gorman immediately tagged Bello for an RBI double down the right field line on the first pitch he saw — a 98-m.p.h. heater down and into the lefty hitter — making it a 5-0 contest. Gorman advanced on a spiked changeup by Bello. Then Padres prospect Luis Campusano brought in Gorman to score on a sac fly that was scorched on a line to left. A line out to second ended Bello’s day.
Bello drew just one swing and miss on an 0-0 slider to Campusano. Bello has steamrolled his way through the Red Sox system. He has a 2.55 ERA in 11 starts between High A Greenville and Double A Portland, striking out 67 batters in 49 ⅓ innings.
Bello flashed his changeup Sunday, but with little success. That, coupled with his fastball, are his go-to pitches. He learned his changeup from longtime big league reliever and mentor Fernando Rodney. His slider is still a work-in-progress, but Bello isn’t afraid to use it and it still has the ability to overwhelm hitters.
“It’s essentially like a poison for the hitters,” Bello said . “It’s like they see it as a fastball and then it has that late break to it and then it’s just completely away from the strike zone.”