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Jeter Downs proud of namesake, journey to USA

Reds' Colombian shortstop prospect named after Yankees legend
MLB.com @JonathanMayo

DAYTON, Ohio -- For as long as he plays the sport professionally, Reds infield prospect Jeter Downs is going to have to answer questions about his first name. So, let's get that out of the way at the top.

Yes, he was named after the former Yankee captain, future Hall of Famer and current owner of the Miami Marlins. Born on July 27, 1998, in Colombia, Downs' father, Jerry Sr., gave him the name, and some might think enormous expectations, to his son. But the Reds' No. 6 prospect has never shied away from it, pointing out that Jeter was really just establishing his superstardom when he was born.

DAYTON, Ohio -- For as long as he plays the sport professionally, Reds infield prospect Jeter Downs is going to have to answer questions about his first name. So, let's get that out of the way at the top.

Yes, he was named after the former Yankee captain, future Hall of Famer and current owner of the Miami Marlins. Born on July 27, 1998, in Colombia, Downs' father, Jerry Sr., gave him the name, and some might think enormous expectations, to his son. But the Reds' No. 6 prospect has never shied away from it, pointing out that Jeter was really just establishing his superstardom when he was born.

"I have always loved it," Downs said. "Jeter was one of my favorite players growing up, just the way he carried himself, on and off the field. He was never in trouble, he was a good role model to look up to as a kid growing up.

"Honestly, it was just another name to me, but now, what he's become, it's kind of special to think. I was born in 1998, he was a year and a half into the league. He wasn't really that big of a name at that time. To see what he's become, a likely Hall of Famer and now he's the owner of a Major League team, it's pretty crazy. God works in mysterious ways."

Not everything that has happened for Downs has been divine intervention. The 19-year-old lived in Colombia until he was three or four, and he still carries memories of his dad, a former professional player himself in his home country, coming home from his work with Carnival Cruise Lines and throwing batting practice to him at age two and three. But while Colombia has sent some players to the big leagues -- Edgar Renteria, Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana are the nation's lone All-Stars -- it wasn't always easy to get scouted there. No one knew that better than Downs' father, so he made the call to move to Miami to help Jeter and his older brother, Jerry Jr., a first baseman in the Red Sox's system.

"It was my dad's plan," Jeter Downs said. "He played professional baseball back in Colombia and went through that whole struggle of getting seen and getting noticed, so he made the decision for our family to move over here to give my brother and I a better chance of playing and getting noticed playing the sport."

Video: Top Prospects: Jeter Downs, SS, Reds

Scouts certainly noticed Jeter during his high school career, and his Draft stock rose during a very strong senior season at Monsignor Edward Pace high school. That led to the Reds taking him at No. 32 overall in last June's Draft, and the middle infielder went out and more than held his own as one of the younger regulars in the Pioneer League during his summer pro debut, though he admits he did run out of gas playing at the pro level on a daily basis.

"The biggest takeaway I got from my first half-season of pro ball is that less is more in the pro game," Downs said. "During high school, you're playing two or three times a week, so you're always in the cages, you're always taking extra ground balls, you're always doing extra work. Coming into pro ball, I had the same mentality, trying to do too much. I found myself so tired once game time came. That was one thing, just learning how to balance it all out, still get my work in, but still get ready for the game and be in good condition for the game."

That experience helped prepare him for his first full season, with the success he had in Billings helping the Reds feel comfortable with sending the teenager to full-season Dayton at the start of the Midwest League season. So far, he's fit right in, hitting .289/.366/.422 with 11 steals over 22 games.

"It was always a goal of mine to try and move up as quick as possible," Downs said. "But at the end of the day, it's not my decision, so I just go out there and play hard every day, have fun with the game and just trust what I've been doing on the field and what the higher-ups have to say and trust in the decision-making."

Part of that process has been getting Downs work on both sides of second base. A shortstop in high school, that's where he played exclusively during his pro debut, and most feel he can stay there long-term. But the Reds also have big international signee, and No. 12 prospect, Jose Garcia, in Dayton, so the pair have been moving back and forth between short and second. For Downs, though, it's not just a personnel thing. He has an impressive understanding that such versatility could help him down the road.

"'Whatever helps me keep moving' type mindset," Downs said of his openness in moving off of shortstop. "I don't want to restrict myself to one position. I can be in Double-A and get a call if somebody gets hurt for the big league club at second base, and I had never played second base in my whole Minor League career. I'm just keeping my options open playing every position, trying new things and seeing where it gets me."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

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