2020? HS classroom. '21? Spring Training

18-year-old Yorke ready to outwork vets, impress staff

February 26th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It is a little after 8 a.m. on a beautiful Friday in late February, and is sitting in a seat halfway up the Green Monster with a perfect view of JetBlue Park, where he hopes to do some damage in his first Major League Spring Training.

All of 18 years old, Yorke is the youngest of the 70-plus players in camp by more than two years. It is less than nine months since the Red Sox surprised many of the “experts” by making him the 17th player selected in the 2020 MLB Draft.

Though Yorke, an infielder with a big right-handed bat, impressively defines tunnel vision in his approach, he took a few moments to reflect on how things have changed for him in a year.

What was Yorke, now the team's No. 11 prospect, doing exactly a year ago at this very same moment in time?

“I was getting ready to go to school. I was on my way to school and then practice after school,” said Yorke. “It’s nuts. It’s a big difference. I’ve been focusing on just baseball now. It’s a lot more work, but it’s a lot more fun. We’re sitting on top of the Green Monster looking down at one of the greatest fields. It doesn’t get better than this.”

While things are unusual this Spring Training due to the pandemic and many teams are inviting more top prospects than usual to big league camp, it is still highly rare for a player to get such a prestigious invite less than a year after graduating from high school.

So why did the Red Sox do it?

“As you note, it’s not that common to bring a recent high school Draft pick to big league camp. If you’re going to do it, you need to feel very good about how that player is going to handle himself around veteran players, how mature he is, how he’ll mesh with the group,” said Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “Needless to say, if we didn’t feel great about those aspects with Nick, he wouldn’t be here.

“This is a unique time, and the pandemic has really impacted what we’ve been able to do with our Minor League players, especially those right out of the Draft. We got some development time with Nick last summer in Pawtucket and instructional league, but not as much as we would have liked. Having him here allows us to make up for that a little bit, and it should be a great experience for him.”

Yorke got his first eye opening experience of the difference between high school and pro baseball at instructional league last fall. He thought he was in good shape, and then the Red Sox gave him a dose of reality.

“I wasn’t in the greatest shape. We set some goals here to lose about 15 pounds before I came back for Spring Training and then I came back and I’ve lost 25 since then,” said Yorke. “Yeah, I put in a lot of work this offseason. I ran a lot, I lifted a lot. Whatever goals they set for me, I hit them, and I’m going to try to set new ones and keep hitting those.”

Manager Alex Cora noticed Yorke’s physique. In fact, when Cora got his first glimpse of him in the batting cage, he didn’t realize he was looking at the 18-year-old who was drafted. Cora was looking at someone with a physique and a swing that would suggest he was older.

“It made me feel old,” quipped Cora. “[My daughter] Camila turns 18 in March. It’s like, ‘Wow, this is unreal.’ I saw him a few days ago in the batting cage and he’s lost some weight, he’s in a better place physically. He's a tall, strong kid. That was impressive. I looked and was like, ‘Who’s this kid?’ They told me, and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s impressive.’”

Cora then quizzed the kid and asked him who he was going to follow around this spring. Yorke batted .500 on the question, answering with Enrique Hernández and J.D. Martinez.

Martinez, Cora noted, is way too complex a hitter for Yorke to properly emulate at this point in his development.

“[Cora] was like, ‘Yeah, follow [Xander] Bogaerts around. Have Bogaerts put a leash around you. Just follow him around, and you’re going to pick up as much as you can,’” said Yorke. “I’m 18, and I’m playing with the best that baseball’s got. It’s amazing. It’s fun.”

Yorke can’t help but note his good fortune.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “Last year I was just trying to play high school baseball in San Jose, didn’t really know a whole lot about all this stuff and then fast forward a year, I’m talking to Alex Cora in the batting cage. I wasn’t expecting all this.”

Following Hernández around was something that amateur scouting director Paul Toboni advised him to do.

“He’s a wizard on defense. He can swing it really well,” Yorke recalls Toboni telling him.

“I’m just trying to pick up as much as I can from him. He’s a guy that’s played in the league for a while now and made a living out of it, and that’s what I want to do, too,” said Yorke.

Yorke’s goal for this camp is one that he plans on taking with him for the rest of his career. It is one that is in some ways fueled by so many “experts” second-guessing the Red Sox for taking Yorke well before the pre-Draft projections.

“My goal is to come in and outwork everybody here, no matter what camp I’m at, no matter where I’m at. I’m going to try to outwork you, and I’m going to try to compete for a spot wherever I go,” said Yorke. “I’m just trying to prove people wrong.”

The young second baseman will also continue to live by the words he first heard from Archbishop Mitty High School pitching coach Jeremy Advincula four years ago.

“He said there’s no mystery to success. You’ve got to work for it. I’m a big believer in that,” said Yorke. “Obviously there’s some natural ability that goes to it, but if you don’t work for what you want, you’re not going to get it. That’s just stuck with me ever since. After practice every day, hitting in the cage, whatever it is, just try to outwork someone.”

While Yorke hesitates to compare himself to anyone he watched growing up, he picked the ultimate Red Sox player as the model he will do his best to emulate.

“I never play the comparison game. I kind of try to be my own player. But I mean, Dustin Pedroia is one of the most hard-working players that’s ever played the game,” said Yorke. “I love it. I want to be just like that. I want to work as hard as I can to be as great as I can, too.”