Prior to the 2018 campaign, shortstop has been a position that the Dodgers didn’t worry too much about, specifically in terms of stability at the MLB level and depth on the farm.
Corey Seager had a stronghold on the big league spot while players like Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor having the skills to provide cover when needed. Gavin Lux held the top spot on the farm for a few seasons and was rising more quickly than any other prospect in the system.
However, both the 2018 and 2019 seasons certainly raised questions. Seager was hampered by numerous injuries, leading many folks to begin discussing a potential trade or even a shift to third base. Lux has proven that he can compete at the big league level, as many pundits believe he can be the organization’s shortstop or second baseman of the future.
Nevertheless, chatter has already started about making some big personnel changes this winter, primarily among the infielders. Anthony Rendon is at the forefront of the discussions, despite the fact it would take a huge paycheck to sign the 29-year-old MVP candidate. Third baseman Justin Turner even told reporters that he wouldn’t object to shifting across the diamond to first base, so long as it would make the club more competitive over the long haul.
What’s more, the Dodgers have already been linked to rumors surrounding a potential trade for Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, prompting the whispers about either moving Seager to third or shipping him to the Indians in the return deal.
Despite all that, the front office crew of the Dodgers could elect to keep the main core of the team intact, especially when it comes to the position player group. There’s a player who’s ranked among the Top 5 prospects in the system, 21-year-old Jeter Downs, whose production could be a big part of that reasoning.
Obviously, Downs isn’t MLB-ready at the moment, but it wouldn’t be foolish to think a 2021 ETA is realistic. Conceivably, even without any big-named free agents signings, the Dodgers could be looking at an infield of Seager, Downs, Lux and Max Muncy for many years down the road, assuming that Seager stays healthy and eventually makes the transition to third.
For those unfamiliar with Downs, it was he and newly crowned Minor League Pitcher of the Year Josiah Gray the Dodgers gained when they shipped out Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer to the Reds back in 2018.
First and foremost, Downs is a right-handed hitter who can comfortably handle the duties at both shortstop and second base, just like Lux. And, he could be the answer to the problem of the Dodgers seeking out a bonafide, righty hitting second baseman every single winter in the free agent and trade markets, especially if either Hernandez or Taylor are shipped out in a trade package.
As you may have suspected, Downs is named after legendary shortstop Derek Jeter. He was chosen by the Reds as a supplementary pick—32nd overall—in the 2017 draft.
Born in Colombia, the 20-year-old Miami resident has always been applauded for his quickness, speed, and range on defense. While many scouts have questioned his ability to productively handle the bat—especially in the power department—Downs has certainly opened some eyes in that regard over the last two seasons.
In the months following the draft, Downs put in his time in the Pioneer Rookie League, but in 2018 he settled into his role with the Low-A Dayton Dragons of the Midwest League. There, he slashed .257/.351/.402 with 23 doubles, 13 long balls and 37 stolen bases over 120 games, hitting primarily out of the three-hole. More impressively, he tallied 52 walks, which boosted his OBP to almost 100 points more than his actual average.
Defensively, he played 73 games at the keystone and 43 at shortstop last season in Dayton in 2018. In terms of fielding, he committed half as many errors at second, seven, than he did at short, 14.
During his first year in the Dodgers system, he hit .277/.362/.526 with an impressive 35 doubles, 24 homers and 86 RBI over 119 games. Most of those appearances were with High-A Rancho, but he was promoted to Double-A Tulsa in time to see action in 12 contests.
Last season in the field, he made 102 appearances and short and just 11 at the keystone.
Many scouts believe that his future is at second base because of his 5-foot-11, 185-lb. frame. His arm is adequate at short, but by no means does he possess the superior arm strength of somebody like Seager, Lindor or Manny Machado. Because of his speed and quickness, some pundits feel that he could even make a career in center field, which correlates with the defensive philosophies of Friedman.
His coaches in high school and on the Cincy farm have always praised his attitude, work ethic and presence on the diamond.
At the moment, it looks like Downs should see plenty of action in the Tulsa infield to open the 2020 season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City if he handles the Texas League pitching as well as he did in the Cal League.