Red Sox prospect report from alternate camp

September 29th, 2020

With alternate camps coming to an end, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization.

Top position prospect: Jeter Downs, SS/2B (No. 1 on Red Sox Top 30)
After acquiring Downs in the Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers in February, the Red Sox barely got to see him before the coronavirus ended Spring Training prematurely. They got a much more extended look during Summer Camp and alternate camp at their Triple-A Pawtucket affiliate, and one of baseball's best middle-infield prospects showed off a combination of hitting ability, power and a high baseball IQ.

Because Boston was just getting to know Downs, they weren't trying to institute any major changes. They also haven't determined where they'll deploy him in the future, though he'll probably wind up at second base (where his range fits better) because they have Xander Bogaerts at shortstop.

"Jeter had a positive camp," Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett said. "We got to know him and build a relationship beyond Spring Training. Offensively, he competed against some very good pitching and made some positive steps.

"On the defensive side, we didn't really have a full team so he played a lot of shortstop and second base and got early individual work at both spots as well. He worked really hard and made good progress. Versatility for any player is always beneficial."

Top pitching prospect: Bryan Mata, RHP (No. 4)
The youngest pitcher (age 19) in the 2018 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, Mata dominated in Class A Advanced last season but saw his ERA nearly triple when he made the jump to Double-A in July. His command wasn't as sharp and more advanced hitters made him pay after the promotion, so locating his pitches was a primary focus during alternate camp.

Mata's stuff continued to impress and though he's still just 21, he may not be too far away from helping a Boston rotation that got drubbed in 2020. His sinker remained electric and his slider and changeup both showed the potential to become plus pitches.

"Bryan improved and had a lot of success," Crockett said. "He threw more strikes and reduced his extreme misses. That obviously will remain a focus but he definitely made a lot of progress.

"All four of his pitches were as good or better as last year. He was mostly 95-98 and a little above that at times. His two-seamer is really devastating. His slider is such an effective weapon for him in the upper 80s."

Youngest prospect: Nick Yorke, 2B (No. 11)
The Red Sox added Yorke, a surprise first-round pick in June, for the last 10 days of alternate camp. Though he's just 18, he wasn't fazed by facing much older competition. He reached base in five of his first six plate appearances, singling off Mata in his first trip to the plate and doubling off big leaguer Matt Hall.

Yorke didn't get a lot of exposure in high school. He had shoulder surgery before his junior season in 2019, relegating him to DH duty and limiting his time on the showcase circuit, and he played just five games as a senior before the coronavirus shutdown. But the Red Sox loved his sweet right-handed swing and advanced feel for hitting, so they selected him 17th overall and signed him for $2.7 million.

"It was an opportunity to get Nick some exposure to veteran players and coaches and give him a head start heading into instructional league," Crockett said. "He's a really mature kid who was able to come in and hold his own. He was able to identify the work habits of older guys. He has a really nice skillset to work with."

2020 Draft picks
Yorke was the only 2020 draftee in Boston's alternate camp.

Pleasant developments
First baseman Triston Casas (No. 2), a 2018 first-round choice, didn't look out of place despite being just 20 and lacking experience above Class A. The still-growing 6-foot-5, 250-pounder made an impression with his massive raw power and mature approach. He provided one of the highlights of the camp when he was drilled by a Tanner Houck pitch, declined to take first base and then crushed a home run.

MLB Pipeline's top-rated prospect in the 2016 Draft, left-hander Jay Groome (No. 7) has worked just 66 Minor League innings in five years as a pro. A lat strain and forearm soreness cost him time in 2017, he had Tommy John surgery in May 2018 and he didn't return to game action until last August. His 92-96 mph fastball and power curveball are back, and the Red Sox still hope he can become a frontline starter.

Outfielder Jarren Duran (No. 8) is believed to be the lowest Draft pick ever (seventh round, 2018) to play in the Futures Game in his first full pro season, but he also struggled in Double-A during the second half of 2019. Crockett described him as making the biggest step forward in Boston's alternate camp, as the speedster starting driving the ball much more consistently after making some changes to his swing path and incorporating his lower half more. He also continued to improve his reads and routes in the outfield after playing second base at Long Beach State.