SARASOTA, Fla. -- At some point in the baseball career of Jeter Downs, an early-morning bus ride of over an hour to play in a Grapefruit League game will feel like monotony.
But that time is off in the distance for the No. 44 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline.
To start at shortstop and bat fifth against the Orioles on Sunday afternoon represented a joyful opportunity for the 21-year-old, who was a key piece acquired from the Dodgers in that blockbuster trade for Mookie Betts and David Price.
Downs is reveling in everything that comes with being in big league camp for the first time. And it hardly mattered that he went 0-for-3 in Boston’s 11-5 loss to the Orioles.
The experiences are what matter right now.
“It’s a kid’s dream just going out there and playing and being around all the other guys and getting to watch them play and stuff like that. It’s a great experience,” said Downs.
It turns out that someone unaffiliated with the Red Sox eased the mind of the top prospect in a chance encounter recently.
“I actually ran into Torii Hunter at my hotel last weekend, and he told me to make all the mistakes you can now in the Minor Leagues, so try new things,” Downs said. “I’ve taken that to heart. I feel really good about that. The trial and error of baseball is pretty cool."
One of those mistakes was on display on Sunday, when Downs ranged back for a popup and collided with left fielder Marcus Wilson, who wound up making the catch. But there was no injury on the play, and Downs came off the field smiling.
“You try one thing one day, it might not feel good. You try it again in two weeks, and then it feels great. He told me to try as many things as you can and make all the mistakes you can now and learn from them and keep going,” Downs said.
Downs had never met Hunter before, but he has competed against Torii Hunter Jr. for a long time and considers him a good friend. It meant something to Downs that he is on the radar of a player who had such a solid Major League career.
“[Hunter] actually mentioned he’s been watching me,” said Downs. “I know he works for the Twins.”
There will be a lot of eyes on Downs during his stay in big league camp, including those of interim manager Ron Roenicke.
“Well, I like it,” Roenicke said. “I think any time you get somebody from somewhere else who your organization has really good things to say about, it’s fun for us to see basically what they see and see how it plays out with the rest of the guys.”
What the Red Sox want for Downs in this Spring Training is just for him to gain comfort in this environment.
“So when he gets the chance again, the intimidation isn’t there of being with these big leaguers and he’s comfortable,” Roenicke said. “These young guys coming to the big leagues, when they’re comfortable they perform really well, so hopefully we’ll get him to the point where he’ll get confident with his game but confident that he belongs here and the guys accept him and he’s comfortable.”
With a combination of speed and power, Downs is the type of prospect who will create a lot of excitement among Red Sox fans. However, he doesn’t come across as the type who gets caught up in the hype.
This is his current mindset.
“Learn as much as possible,” Downs said. “Just ask as many questions as I can.”
In the meantime, Downs will welcome those bus rides that his veteran teammates will be all too happy to avoid.
“Hey, in this game, the more you play, the better you get and the more you learn,” Downs said. “I’ll do them all.”