A Conversation With Red Sox Top Prospect Jeter Downs

Jeter Downs can swing it. As Eric Longenhgan wrote last month, the top prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization “has been a polished, advanced-for-his-age hitter dating back to high school.” That attribute led to Downs being drafted 32nd overall by the Cincinnati Reds in 2017, and subsequently included in a pair of major trades. In December 2018, he went to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a seven-player swap that included Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood, and 12 months ago he came to Boston as part of the Mookie Betts deal. A 22-year-old second baseman who finished 2019 in Double-A, Downs projects, per Longenhgan, as an everyday player at the major-league level.

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David Laurila: Let’s start with a self scouting report: How would you describe yourself as a hitter?

Jeter Downs: “I like to think of myself as a contact-first guy. I’m not the biggest guy in the world — I’m 5-foot-11 and usually between 185 and 188 [pounds] — so I don’t try to hit for power. That’s something that comes naturally, from having the right approach. I call home runs ‘a mistake,’ honestly. You don’t try to hit home runs; they just happen. Basically, I just try to get in good counts and swing at good pitches.”

Laurila: How would you describe your swing?

Downs: “If you go by numbers and results, they would show that I’m more of a loft guy. But at the end of the day, I just try to put a nice level swing on the ball and hit it hard. I’m not trying to hit the ball in the air. I’m just trying to hit nice line drives everywhere.”

Laurila: Eric Longenhagen wrote that you punish pitches down in the zone, but that you could be susceptible to getting tied up by velocity in on your hands. Do you agree with that?

Downs: “Not really. If I get tied up, it’s because I’m looking for a certain pitch, I wouldn’t say it’s because of my swing or my hands. People get jammed, and get tied up, but… and this is my opinion of my swing: If I’m ready for it, I’m going to get to 100 [mph] up and in. So I wouldn’t say that’s a weakness. I’ve hit 100, both in and out, so I’m capable of doing that. But for the most part, no hitter is setting up to hit that pitch.

“Approach-wise, you try to cover the bigger part of the plate so that you can stay on more pitches. If you’re thinking fastball — a high-velo fastball in — and they throw you a slider away, guess what you’re going do? Like, you’re never going to cover that. Hitting that pitch is also just reaction. And if the guy throws three of them, perfectly dotted, you’re probably going to have to tip your cap, because that’s really good pitching. Good pitching beats good hitting any day of the week. Of course, if he does that three or four at bats in a row, then you’ve got to make an adjustment and change your sights a little bit. That’s just hitting.”

Laurila: Do agree that you’re a good low-ball hitter?

Downs: “Yes. I do hit the ball well down there, but that’s because I tend to look for the ball down there. I don’t think you’ll find a hitter that is trying to hit fastballs up. Again, that’s a really tough pitch to hit; a high-velo fastball up in the zone with a high spin rate is a pitcher’s pitch. But every other pitch that a pitcher throws is meant to be down. So it’s kind of an approach thing. Like, would you want to give up the bottom half of the plate because you’re looking for a fastball up, or do you want to zone in more down? If he throws a changeup down, or he throws a curveball down… those are pitches he’s not going to be trying to throw at the top of the sone.”

Laurila: Are you looking for specifics pitches and zones, or are you basically sitting fastballs-middle and reacting from there?

Downs: “That depends on the plan that my hitting coach and I, and my teammates, talk about throughout the game. All pitchers do different things, so you can’t always go out there with the exact same approach.”

Laurila: You’ve been with three organizations in four years, which means three different sets of hitting coaches and coordinators. Have you gotten the same messages from all of them, or have there been variations?

Downs: “I would say there have been variations, but only because everybody understands hitting differently. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to the same thing: getting your pitch. People might go about that differently, or word it differently, but it’s all about controlling the zone and hitting the pitches that you can handle.”

Laurila: Are hitting analytics a big part of your M.O. or are you mostly going up to the plate trying to be an athlete?

Downs: “I’m more of a feel guy, more of an athlete guy. I’ll watch video of myself, and we’ll break things down, but at the end of the day, video can’t tell you everything — not if you can’t put it together. So I try not to put too much thought into that. If something feels right, it feels right.”

Laurila: Have you made any notable adjustments recently?

Downs: “No. The last year or so I’ve been pretty much been doing the same thing.”

Laurila: Two years ago, you hit 24 home runs, 19 of them in the California League. Were a lot of them the product of a good hitting environment, or do you see yourself possessing real pop?

Downs: “I like to think so. Yes, there’s a perception that the ball flies in the Cal League, but other than Lancaster, where the wind is blowing out 50 mph — and I only hit one home run there — you still have to hit the ball hard. You’re not going to hit a ball with 90-mph exit velo and somehow get a home run from it. Balls don’t go 40-50 feet further just because you’re in the Cal League. And then I went to Double-A for 12 games, and the playoffs, and hit a few there. If you look at the exit velos and launch angles, most of them would have been gone anywhere.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Downs: “Just that I love baseball and want to enjoy doing it. I enjoy the competition, and with how difficult the sport is, there’s a satisfaction when you succeed. You see that all the work you’ve put in is starting to pay off, and that’s pretty cool to me.”

Laurila: Are you a guy who play with a certain amount of joie de vivre, like say a Javier Báez?

Downs: “I do. If I get a little too serious, I tend to get tense and not enjoy it as much. I love watching guys like Báez, [Fernando] Tatis Jr., and [Francisco] Lindor. They go out there and play the game loose and have fun. And it shows. Their numbers show. This games is too hard to be too serious all the time. You’ve got to enjoy the bumps, enjoy the rides, enjoy your teammates as much as you can. You’ve got to have fun out there.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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weekendatbidens
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weekendatbidens

These are probably my favorite pieces from fangraphs. Tip of the cap!

martyvan90
Member
martyvan90

Me too. I loved his response to Eric’s analysis. If he makes it big will he be Captain Jetes the second?