Nine years after bidding farewell to a certain franchise legend, the New York Yankees welcomed another shortstop named Jeter to their organization.
This time, it’s Jeter Downs, a 25-year-old infielder who was designated for assignment last week by the Washington Nationals. A native of Colombia named after Derek Jeter, Downs was claimed off waivers Tuesday by the one team able to help him fulfill his apparent destiny of donning pinstripes.
It remains to be seen if the once highly regarded prospect can get his career back on track with the Yankees, but with the acquisition, they have already accomplished one non-trivial objective: annoying the heck out of Boston Red Sox fans.
Downs was the piece that cemented the 2020 trade that sent Mookie Betts, the 2018 American League MVP, from Boston to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In exchange for a versatile, vastly talented player who was just 27 at the time, the Red Sox received Downs, catcher Connor Wong and outfielder Alex Verdugo. With the Yankees having acquired Verdugo this month in a rare trade with the Red Sox, they now have two-thirds of Boston’s haul for a much smaller fraction of the price.
In the wake of Tuesday’s news, it is not publicly known if Jeter (Derek) has reached out to his namesake. When Downs was set to make his major league debut for Boston in June 2022, Jeter noted on social media that he had met the young infielder a few years earlier.
“Congratulations and good luck … unless you are playing the Yankees,” Jeter wrote then.
Jeter Downs was named by his parents after Derek Jeter in Colombia in 1998.
He hit his first major league home run at Yankee Stadium.
If Downs, who also has experience at second base and third base, wants to spend much time playing for the Yankees, he will need to recapture more of the batting prowess that made him an exciting prospect at the time of the Betts trade, after the Cincinnati Reds made him a first-round draft pick three years earlier. (As an aside, when the Reds drafted Downs in 2017, it provided a painful reminder to Cincinnati fans that their team passed on Jeter in the 1992 draft to use the fifth pick on journeyman outfielder Chad Mottola, allowing the Yankees to pounce on their future captain with the next pick.)
Acquired by the Dodgers in a 2018 trade that netted Cincinnati Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and others, Downs posted impressive minor league numbers the following year, including a 1.116 OPS over 12 games with Los Angeles’s Class AA affiliate. After the Betts trade, Downs and other minor leaguers saw their 2020 season canceled by the pandemic, and when he returned to action it was not with the same success.
Over two seasons and 180 plate appearances with Boston’s Class AAA affiliate, Downs batted .193 with a .292 on-base percentage and a .368 slugging percentage. In his first major league stint, composed of 14 games and 41 plate appearances for the Red Sox last year, his slash line was an anemic .154/.171/.256. As fate would have it, one of Downs’s most memorable moments in Boston was when he notched his first major league hit and RBI in a July 2022 game against the Yankees — then scored the winning run in extra innings on a base hit by Verdugo.
“It’s pretty ironic that this just happened,” Downs said at the time while referencing Jeter’s tweet. “I got my first hit against them [and] the winning run, so this is insane. You can’t write a better story.”
Claimed by the Nationals a year ago after Boston designated him for assignment, Downs’s hitting numbers at Class AAA Rochester improved only slightly, although he did manage a 1.067 OPS in just nine plate appearances with the big league club.
He’ll want that trajectory to stay on an upward path, and if it does, Downs might have Yankees fans once again chanting, “Let’s go, Jeter!”