When the Red Sox drafted second baseman Nick Yorke with their first pick back in 2020, it caught many evaluators and people in the industry at large by surprise. Yorke wasn’t at the top of many draft boards, and some critics suggested that the Red Sox plucked him at the No. 17 spot just because they could get him for under slot value. Yorke signed for $2.7 million when the value at No. 17 was around $3.6 million.
But the Red Sox remained adamant that this was, indeed, their pick, that Yorke had the best bat in the draft and was a player who could possibly win a batting title one day in the big leagues.
In Yorke’s first season as a professional, he has lived up to expectations, plus more.
The Red Sox challenged Yorke by starting him in Low A Salem as a 19-year-old. It was a decision that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox firmly believed in.
“It’s a tough assignment for a player his age,” Bloom said back in May. “And at the end of the day, you want to put players where they can succeed but where they’re also going to be challenged. Everybody felt strongly that this is the right spot for him.”
Yorke hit just .195 in his first 91 plate appearances but dominated shortly thereafter. In his next 255 plate appearances, he hit .373/.467/.608 with 10 homers and a 1.075 OPS. He had more walks (33) than strikeouts (26). That helped raise Yorke’s slash line to .323/.413/.500 on the year, prompting a promotion to High A Greenville.
“It’s exciting,” Yorke said. “You’re one step closer to your main goal, which is to be in the big leagues.
“It’s a lot of fun getting back with teammates that I was with in the beginning of the year in Salem, and hopefully a couple more of those guys down there come up here, too. I’m looking forward to playing.”
Yorke laced a single to right-center in his first at-bat for Greenville Tuesday, finishing the evening 2 for 5 with a double.
Hitting is what Yorke does.
“I think he’s got two things that really jump out,” one American League evaluator said. “He’s got a really good eye, and really good bat-to-ball skills. He’s also got a tremendous feel for his movements.
“Even when we saw him in high school, when you asked him to do stuff during batting practice, he would put the ball wherever you asked him to put the ball.”
If scouts asked him to hit it 10 feet off the ground toward the second baseman, Yorke could do that. If he was asked to hit a homer to left field, he could do that, too.
Yorke was rated the Red Sox’ No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, but he wasn’t in the overall top 100.
“People keep saying, ‘Does this kid deserve to be one of the top 100 prospects in baseball?’ ” the evaluator continued. “Really, the question for me is, is he in the top 10 or top 20?”
Yorke’s early struggles didn’t raise any eyebrows with the Red Sox or make them question their pick. Struggles and adjustments are a part of a young player’s story. Plus, the sample size was extremely small.
Most importantly, though, the Red Sox knew how Yorke was wired. They knew he never doubted his talent. They knew him well enough to understand what he was thinking. In Yorke’s mind, it wasn’t a matter of whether he would succeed. That was a given. It was more so when.
“It goes back to your work off the field,” Yorke said. “When you put in the work off the field, you feel more prepared, more confident. Just stay with it and try not to make too many changes. Just staying true to yourself.”
Adjustments at Salem, though, were needed. It’s a pitcher’s ballpark, widely known to be a graveyard for hitters.
So Yorke made those adjustments, lowering his sights and focusing more on line drives than fly balls. He hit just three homers at Salem and seven on the road. But he also had just one fewer double at home (seven) than on the road (eight). Keep in mind, he had roughly 51 more plate appearances on the road.
Yorke is a bit more nimble and lean than some scouts expected. He’s likely to stick at second base and offers another peek into the Sox’ future.
And as for the critics, Yorke has made them eat their words to this point, though that’s not his focus.
“The way that I look at it is, how I am being ranked here, how’s that going to help me get to the big leagues? It’s not,” Yorke said. “My goal is to make it to the big leagues. Why should I care what others are thinking about? Like, who cares?
“You’re on the field. Go play baseball. Have fun. That’s the kind of mentality I take into every game.”