For sweet-swinging Red Sox prospect Nick Yorke, the accolades came rolling in after his first professional season.
MLB Pipeline bestowed him as Boston’s top positional prospect of the season on Oct. 1. A week earlier, the Red Sox had recognized him as the organization’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Those honors were all well and good -- and so were the glittering stats Yorke (.325/.412/.516 slash line with 14 homers and 62 RBIs) put together in 2021.
But the true satisfaction for Yorke will come when he eventually earns his way to Fenway Park and can go about the process of proving all the naysayers wrong who were perplexed when Boston made him the 17th overall selection in the ’20 Draft out of Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif).
“Absolutely,” said Yorke, Boston’s No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. “I mean, it's motivation. I still know the number -- I was ranked 139th going into the Draft by [Pipeline], but at the end of the day, I mean, that's not going to help me get to the big leagues. So you know, every opportunity that I get to be on the field, try to make the most of it and prove to them that I’m better than 139th.”
As Yorke watched the panel on MLB Network dissect his selection by the Red Sox on that night of June 10, 2020, he could sense the shock in their voices.
“This might be the most surprising first-round pick since the Cubs took Hayden Simpson 16th overall 10 years ago,” esteemed MLB Pipeline guru Jim Callis wrote that night on MLB.com. “Yorke has a sweet right-handed swing and is one of the best pure prep hitters on the West Coast, but MLB Pipeline ranked him No. 139 on its Top 200 Draft Prospects list.”
Someday, if Yorke gets to where he expects to in his career, he might just have a little fun with the “experts.”
“It’s a big chip on my shoulder,” said Yorke. “I'm ready to call MLB Network [one day] and say, ‘Hey, I know you guys are surprised, but here I am. Let's get it going.’ I'm excited for that.”
The Red Sox know the time hasn’t come yet to do cartwheels for a pick that went against conventional wisdom. But they did enjoy watching Yorke’s combination of work ethic, talent and intensity help him to a solid first pro season.
“It's hard to speak on what other people thought,” said Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham. “I know, internally for us there is a reason we obviously selected him where he did and what we believed he could do in the present and obviously, in the future as well.
“So it's nice to see him play with a chip on his shoulder. I think that gives him a little extra energy. The work ethic, the passion, the willingness to improve, I think is all there and obviously it’s exciting to have that kind of young player.”
It was clear how highly the Red Sox regarded Yorke when they gave him an invitation to Major League Spring Training last February. It isn’t every day an 18-year-old gets such an honor just eight months after being drafted.
You only have one chance to make a good first impression and Yorke nailed his.
“The way he acts, the way he goes about his business, it’s very impressive,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “As you guys know, I have a daughter around the same age and just to think about the way he carries himself in the clubhouse with adults, it was eye-opening. What he did is what he expects. His expectations are great. He’s in tune with the game.
“He understands there’s the offensive part of it, but you have to run the bases and play defense. He knows that. He was a sponge the whole time. We’re very pleased with the way he went about it this year. We’re looking forward to him getting better and getting here as soon as possible to contribute.”
Yorke proved his mental toughness when he overcome a tough early-season slump, hitting .177 for the first three weeks of the season at Low-A Salem.
“I mean, it was a super long, fun, exciting season. I was lucky the season wasn't a month or else I wouldn't be here [receiving these awards], right?” Yorke joked from Fenway Park in late September.
After 76 games for Salem, Yorke was promoted to High-A Greenville, where he played 21 games and quickly proved he could handle the raise in competition by producing a .333/.406/.571 line with four homers and 15 RBIs in 96 plate appearances.
“I mean, just seeing 90 mph, seeing this competition every single day, you're bound to grow,” Yorke said. “So I’m just super excited to get back out there again next season. I mean, as much as it was at the end of the season, ‘It's long, it's getting to be a grind,’ I knew after day one of the offseason, I was ready for next season. So I'm looking forward to that.”