Long before the rumors began circulating about the Dodgers being interested in acquiring players like Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant, there were plenty of fans discussing what the team believed its long-term solution at third base to be, especially when considering that 2020 is the final year of veteran Justin Turner‘s contract.
For years, pundits have felt that Corey Seager would eventually make the transition to the hot corner, despite Los Angeles management still showing no signs of any type of move happening. Yet, because of the club’s continued interest in All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, chatter was that Seager would either be included in the deal back to Cleveland or slide over to third, potentially creating perhaps one of the most formidable infields in the National League.
Obviously, Rendon landed with the Angels, and Donaldson’s demands for a lengthy deal are a little too salty for the Dodgers. Bryant’s market is complicated by the fact that he’s still waiting on a hearing decision regarding his ultimate free agent status, so there’s probably going to be a waiting period before rival organizations increase their respective interest. Besides, Bryant’s defense at third is much worse than the 35-year-old Turner’s. Bryant can theoretically play a bit of left field and first base, but the Dodgers are heavily stacked in those spots with players whose offensive skills are very much comparable to Bryant’s.
We talked a bit about Kody Hoese possibly being the third baseman of the future in the earlier weeks of the winter. Sure, there’s a good chance he could make a major league impact sometime down the road, but the time frame for that to happen is probably several years away. While there’s indeed the probability for front-office boss Andrew Friedman to wait to deal with the future third base vacancy at a later point in time, it almost goes against his proactive nature.
A few days ago, I was reading a chat on Baseball America regarding the Dodgers’ 2020 Top 10 prospects, and there was an interesting point made by Kyle Glaser about Jeter Downs sliding over to play third base, imaginably creating a quicker route to the big leagues for the 21-year-old youngster.
“The best position for Downs will be third base, which is probably where he’s best suited because he has an above-average arm but not quite the range you want in the middle infield,” Glaser pointed out. “That’s his clearest path to an everyday role in Los Angeles.”
The move makes a ton of sense, not just because of the big league squad’s impending vacancy at third base, but mainly because Down’s skillset might be better suited for a career there. Glaser indicated that Downs has a rocket for an arm, and because the youngster has limited range in the hole at short, the hot corner could be a much better fit. Some pundits have hypothesized that Downs could eventually make a full-time transition to second base—a spot he has appeared at 84 times during his minors career—but third makes much more sense considering the strength of his arm.
Glaser has always made many great insightful points in the past, unlike many journalists who try and rate prospects without ever having seeing them play, Glaser has encountered most of these youngsters close-up and firsthand. The more that I dig deeper into his claims made during the chat, the more his understanding makes sense.
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 5-foot-11, 185-lb. right-handed hitter. He could be the answer to the problem of the Dodgers seeking out a bonafide, righty hitting infielder every single winter in the free agent and trade markets, especially if either Enrique Hernandez or Chris Taylor are shipped out in a trade package anytime soon.
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 Miami resident has always been applauded for his success on the basepaths. 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 at 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 at short and just 11 at the keystone.
It should be interesting to see how the Dodgers plan to move Downs around the infield this year, especially if the organization decides to extend him an invite to the big league side of spring training. If, for any reason, a trial at third base doesn’t work out, there’s certainly no harm in trying at this stage of his career.
One way or another, there’s a very good chance Downs will be contributing at the major league level at some point in 2021.
Currently, Baseball America has Downs listed as the sixth-best prospect in the Dodgers’ system.