The details of the Red Sox’ trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers finally appear complete. In exchange for the superstar outfielder and pitcher David Price, the Red Sox will get Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong.
Verdugo is a known quantity; he appeared in 106 games with Los Angeles last season. But Downs and Wong are both prospects. Here’s what you need to know about them:
Yes, his name is a reference to a Hall of Famer.
Downs, a middle infielder, was in fact named after Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
“When he came into the major leagues [in 1995], he was the name,” Downs explained to MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon in 2017. “He was the thing. He was shining. It was ‘Jeter this, Jeter that.’
“It was actually my mom’s idea. My brother got Jerry from my dad [Jerry Sr.]. It was my mom’s turn to pick a name since I was a second child. She just fell in love with Jeter and the way he played, his humbleness, how he carried himself on and off the field.”
Downs tries to emulate the former Yankee.
“That’s how I pride myself,” Downs told Sheldon. “I try to do the right thing on and off the field, whether it’s baseball-related or out with friends or helping somebody out on the street. It’s kind of ironic that I have the name because that’s exactly the person I model myself after.”
He was a first-round pick.
Downs was taken 32nd overall in the 2017 MLB draft by the Cincinnati Reds. Born in Colombia, he grew up in Florida. Before being drafted and signing with the Reds, he had committed to play college baseball at the University of Miami.
His brother already plays in the Red Sox system.
Jerry Downs, Jeter’s older brother, was selected by the Red Sox in the 15th round of the 2015 draft. In his five seasons at various levels, topping out in Double A Portland last season, Jerry has compiled a .331 on-base and a .695 OPS as a first baseman.
He’s already been a part of a blockbuster trade.
In December 2018, Jeter Downs was sent from the Reds to the Dodgers along with Josiah Gray and Homer Bailey. In exchange, Los Angeles sent Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Kyle Farmer, and cash to Cincinnati.
He has the potential to become a power-hitting middle infielder.
In 2019, Downs played at two levels of the Dodgers organization, totaling 24 home runs with a .362 on-base and an .888 OPS as a 20-year-old.
Scouts also have praised his defense. Perhaps the best-case scenario for the Red Sox would be that he blossoms into a double-play partner for current shortstop Xander Bogaerts as a second baseman.
He’s relatively new to the position.
Wong, who was born in Houston and grew up in nearby Pearland, Texas, primarily played shortstop in high school, though his coach Anthony Scalise told the Houston Chronicle that he was a true utility player who also could throw more than 90 miles per hour on the mound.
As a true freshman at the University of Houston in 2015, Wong started 62 of 63 games at shortstop after earning a first-team all-state nod there as a high school senior.
As a college sophomore, he transformed into a utility player, starting in all 59 games between shortstop, third base, and behind the plate. That got the 6-foot-1-inch Wong noticed, and he was selected by the Dodgers in the third round (100th overall) of the 2017 draft.
“Who wouldn’t want a guy that can catch, play short, pitch, and play the outfield?,” Scalise told the Chronicle. “He doesn’t back down from any challenge. If you tell Connor he can’t do something, he’ll say, ‘Watch me,’ and then show you he can.”
The 28th-ranked Dodgers prospect in 2019, Wong has primarily caught, but seen time at second and third base during his professional career.
“Being versatile helps me get out on the field, even if there’s a guy that’s better than me at a certain position,” Wong told Dodgers Way in 2018. “Versatility gets you out there every day, and that’s what counts in the end.”
He packs a powerful swing . . . when he makes contact.
Splitting time between High A and Double A in 2019, Wong blasted 24 home runs while compiling a .281/.336/.541 slash line, with 24 doubles and 82 RBIs.
He also struck out 143 times, swinging and missing having plagued Wong since his first year in pro ball.
“Wong displayed some wiry strength, but used more of a controlled approach at Houston before turning his righthanded swing loose in pro ball,” his MLB prospect report said. “He aggressively looks to drive the ball now and does to all fields, though he’ll need to make some adjustments after striking out at a 32 percent clip in 2018.”
He helped the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes to a championship.
In 2018, the Quakes won the California League championship. Wong appeared in 102 games, hitting .269/.350/.480 in his first full pro season.
“We just had a really special team,” Wong said. “We came to the ballpark a lot of days and just knew we were going to win. It was that kind of confidence and chemistry that we had.”
He played in the Cape Cod League.
After a summer with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in 2015, Wong returned to the Cape Cod League with the Bourne Braves in 2016 and was a starting catcher in the league’s All-Star Game.
In the Cape League, his versatility showed again. He was the starting left fielder for Bourne on Opening Day in 2016, and in 2015, he said he preferred pitching.
He wouldn’t be the first in his family to play in the majors.
Wong’s stepfather, Matt Maysey, had a brief MLB career. A pitcher, he appeared in 25 games for Montreal and Milwaukee in 1992–93, with a 5.55 ERA. He singled in his only at-bat, ending his career with that elusive 1.000 batting average.
“Connor’s stepdad has pounded baseball into him his whole life, and he understands the game,” Scalise said. “Throw in his God-given talent, his work ethic, and the fact that he’s a great kid, and he’s the perfect player to have on your team.”