Nats claim infielder Jeter Downs from Red Sox

Just three days before Christmas, general manager Mike Rizzo remains busy checking things off his list.

The Nationals announced this afternoon they have claimed infielder Jeter Downs on outright waivers from the Red Sox. Downs was designated for assignment last week when the Red Sox signed outfielder Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract.

Downs, 24, was born in San Andrés, Colombia, where his father was a professional baseball player. He was named after Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and ironically would go on to record his first major league hit and RBI then score the game-winning run against the Yankees and hit his first big league home run at Yankee Stadium this season.

He was a 2017 first-round pick (32nd overall) by the Reds out of Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla. He has since been traded twice, first with current Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray and Homer Bailey to the Dodgers in exchange for Kyle Farmer, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and cash in December 2018. But Downs is probably most known for being a central piece in the package along with Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong to go to Boston in the Mookie Betts and David Price trade in February 2020.

Primarily a shortstop, Downs was considered a top prospect around the sport. He was the Red Sox’s No. 1 and No. 2 prospect in 2020 and 2021, respectively, and was ranked as high as the No. 44 prospect in baseball two years ago, per MLB Pipeline.

A right-handed bat that hit .240 over five minor league seasons in the Reds, Dodgers and Red Sox systems, Downs finally made his major league debut with Boston in June, but was optioned back to Triple-A Worcester the next day. He returned for his first extended stint in the majors in July, but disappointed, slashing only .154/.171/.256 with a .427 OPS, four runs scored, one double, one home run, four RBIs and one walk to 21 strikeouts. 

Over his 14 games in the majors, he appeared at second base, third base and shortstop. He recorded most of his time at second, with -1 Defensive Runs Saved and a -0.5 Ultimate Zone Rating over 56 innings.

Downs was optioned back to Triple-A Worcester on July 30, where he finished the season hitting a paltry .197 with 11 doubles, one triple, 16 home runs and 33 RBIs in 81 games.

As a former top prospect, Downs still has the potential to be an everyday major leaguer. He’ll likely enter spring training competing for the backup infielder job, while also providing competition for CJ Abrams at shortstop. If he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster out of camp, he’ll provide infield depth at Triple-A Rochester with the versatility to play three infield positions.

Downs still holds rookie status through next year, isn’t arbitration-eligible until after the 2025 season and can’t become a free agent until after the 2028 season.

He is the second waiver claim made by the Nationals this offseason after the team claimed right-hander A.J. Alexy off waivers from the Rangers on Dec. 13.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Nationals designated Reed Garrett for assignment. The 29-year-old signed a minor league deal with the Nats in February after two stints with the Rangers, one with the Tigers and two seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.

A Richmond, Va., native, Garrett posted a 6.75 ERA and 2.250 ERA in 9 ⅓ innings over seven relief appearances with the Nats this year. He went 4-4 with a 3.04 ERA and 1.225 WHIP in 42 appearances out of Rochester’s bullpen.

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