On a day when the Red Sox officially announced the signing of Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million deal, the club cleared a roster spot for the left fielder in a fashion that amplified the pain for a landmark transaction. To add Yoshida to their 40-man roster Thursday, the Sox designated middle infielder Jeter Downs for assignment.
Downs was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020 (alongside outfielder Alex Verdugo and catcher Connor Wong) as a key part of the Mookie Betts trade — a top-100 prospect coming off a fantastic 2019 season in the minors (.276/.362/.526 with 24 homers and 24 steals combined in High-A and Double-A). Originally, the Sox had agreed to a deal to send Betts and pitcher David Price to the Dodgers for Verdugo and Brusdar Graterol, but concerns about Graterol’s medicals led the team to replace the pitcher in the deal with Downs and Wong.
But after spending the 2020 season at the Sox’ alternate training site during the COVID-19 shutdown of the minor leagues, Downs cratered offensively in two seasons in Triple-A, hitting .193/.292/.368 with a 31.1 percent strikeout rate. He did reach the big leagues this year, but in 14 games with the Sox, he hit .154/.171/.256 with 21 strikeouts in 41 plate appearances.
Downs made significant strides on defense in his time in the organization. But his soaring swing-and-miss rates against experienced competition in Triple-A and the majors resulted in a downgrade from a top prospect who appeared to have a chance at being an above-average big league second baseman to a player who will need to make significant progress as a hitter to have any kind of a future.
“This was a tough one. The fact that he was in a position where we considered him and chose him to be designated I think just speaks to some of the struggles we’ve had getting him on track,” said chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “I still think there’s a lot of physical ability there, but we haven’t been able to unlock it consistently.”
It’s possible that Downs could clear waivers and get outrighted to Triple-A Worcester. If so, the Sox believe the 24-year-old can still emerge as a big leaguer.
“Certainly he’s still young and there’s no reason to write him off,” said Bloom. “But he’s obviously had some struggles. I’m glad he was able to get to the big leagues with us, glad he was able to have a moment with us here at Fenway, help us win a big game. That was a lot of fun for a lot of people, but obviously we haven’t been able to get him to that success as consistently as anybody would like with Jeter.”