Yanks add former top prospect named after Jeter, traded for Betts

December 19th, 2023

NEW YORK – Baseball’s meandering path provided an odd twist for Jeter Downs in 2022, when the shortstop named after a Hall of Fame predecessor joined the Red Sox and collected his first Major League hit, run, RBI and homer against the Yankees.

Now, Downs has an opportunity to wear pinstripes, just as his namesake Derek Jeter did.

The Yankees announced that they claimed Downs on waivers from the Nationals on Tuesday, a move that – along with their trade for Alex Verdugo earlier this month – gives the Bombers two main pieces from Boston’s February 2020 trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

Though Downs does not have a lot of Major League experience, he already has something of a history with the Yankees – beyond just his name. The first home run of his career came in the Bronx, and he recorded his first big league hit and RBI against the Yanks in the 10th inning of a July 9 game with the Red Sox. He then came around to score the winning run on a knock by – guess who – Verdugo.

A shortstop, third baseman and second baseman, Downs appeared in six games with Washington in 2023, going 2-for-5 (.400) with four runs scored, an RBI, four walks and two stolen bases. He was designated for assignment by the Nationals earlier this week.

The 25-year-old spent most of the season in the Minors, batting .222 (40-for-180) with three homers, 20 RBIs and 11 steals in 60 combined games this year with Triple-A Rochester, the FCL Nationals and High-A Wilmington.

Over parts of two Major League seasons (2022-23) with the Red Sox (2022) and Nationals (2023), Downs has hit .182 (8-for-44) with a home run and five RBIs in 20 career games.

Born three years after Jeter’s big league debut, Downs has said that he was named after Jeter by his mother, even though his father is a Red Sox fan. Downs said that he grew up as a Yankees fan, and in Feb. 2020, he recounted his first meeting of sorts with the longtime captain.

“I was driving; me and my brother were driving to go to train,” Downs said. “We’re in traffic. My brother sees this Range Rover pulling up. He was like, ‘Oh my God, is that Jeter?’ He honks and I wave at him.

“I’m doing training with Raul Ibañez, [Jeter’s former teammate]. I called Raul and said, ‘Tell [Derek] Jeter that the kid he was waving at was Jeter [Downs].’ So then he told him that and it was pretty cool that I met him that way.”

A couple of days later, Downs said that he spoke with Jeter via FaceTime, connected through a friend who was attending a Marlins event at a TopGolf location.

“I’ve idolized him my whole life,” Downs said. “It was finally good to meet him and talk to him a little bit. It was definitely special.”