Jeter Downs dealing with pressure of being guy in the Mookie Betts trade

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The break probably wasn't a bad thing for Jeter Downs.

During that Spring Training 1.0 in Fort Myers, Fla. all eyes were on Downs, and you could get the sense that the infielder knew it.

The Red Sox' top prospect (according to MLB.com) was decent during his stint in the Grapefruit League, seemingly more comfortable at second base than shortstop but showing promise at the plate. But when not on the field, reporters were always at the ready with questions about living life as one of the players who came over in the trade for Mookie Betts.

It's a dynamic that won't be going away any time soon, as was evident in Downs' Zoom call with the media Friday afternoon.

"I really don’t pay attention to that stuff," he said when asked about being linked with Betts. "Yes, it’s cool to be mentioned with him and to be part of such a big trade but at the end of the day, we still have to go play baseball. I still have to go out and do my job and he still has to go out and do his job. I just try to keep it simple. It’s still baseball. It doesn’t matter who you get traded for, where you get traded for, just go out and play the game, have fun and let everything else take care of itself."

Fair enough.

But it was Pawtucket Red Sox hitting coach Rich Gedman who perhaps best articulated Jeter's current lot in life, which currently involves participating in the simulated games being put on by the Red Sox' extra players at McCoy Stadium.

After every Alex Verdugo home run, I will give you somebody talking about Jeter Downs. Today it was Rich Gedman ... pic.twitter.com/ShPXncF4Mo

— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) August 8, 2020

"I’m not sure I want to be Jeter Downs," Gedman noted. "There are certainly some high expectations that come with the person who you got traded for. But in terms of work ethic and certainly athletic ability, he is certainly on the right track. It seemed like over the course of this pandemic he actually has matured a little bit. I don’t know if that’s probably the right word. He’s kind of a young guy. It was like he was trying to prove something in spring training and showed signs of getting frustrated and things like that. I think when he got here his work approach has been pretty solid. I think he’s improving. I think this time around us is helping him realize we’re in the right place in terms of trying to help him get to where he wants to get to. He’s done a good job here."

Downs isn't alone in being put in the Mookie Betts-induced crosshairs. Alex Verdugo (who hit his second homer of the season Friday night) is living the life, as is another member of the Sox' taxi squad, Connor Wong.

"I try not to put a label on myself so I kind of just want to get better at everything," Downs said. "I want to be better offensively, swinging at more strikes, strike out less, that’s one of my goals I feel like I can better at. And defensively, just be better, period. I just want to be better at every single part of my game. I feel like that’s something I can work on here without worrying too much about results. Just keep on working on things and letting my game improve.”

But it's not only the fact that Downs was included in the trade from the Dodgers it's also that he and Wong were the two players who were included instead of fireballer Brusdar Graterol (who was deemed a physical risk by the Red Sox). And while Downs may very well be the Red Sox' next long-term second baseman, the images of Graterol firing 99 mph two-seamers by National League hitters has only complicated the conversation when judging the Red Sox' return.

No matter. Downs is just going to keep doing his thing, which for now seems good enough for all involved. His only regret these days? A bit too much gaming.

"I would say a whole lot of video games, that’s for sure," Downs said when asked what he was doing in his free time. "Probably played a little bit too much but you have to do something to take your mind off the game and relax."

Here is your Brian Johnson vs. Jeter Downs video of the day (courtesy @PawSox FB) pic.twitter.com/oqNGXiX6Oq

— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) August 8, 2020

 

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