Not worried about status, Downs thankful for fresh start with Nats

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jeter Downs is used to being in the spotlight.

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 been a central piece of two major trades during his professional career, including the blockbuster Mookie Betts trade between the Dodgers and Red Sox in 2020. And he has been considered a top prospect in baseball, topping the Red Sox system and ranking as high as No. 44 in the sport, per MLB Pipeline.

But he now finds himself with his fourth organization in his sixth season of pro ball. No longer a top prospect, he’s battling for the backup infielder’s job with the Nationals.

Excuse the pun, but he is not down on himself.

“It's been great,” Downs said of his first spring training with the Nats. “I thank God for this opportunity. The guys have been great, super fun group we have here and we're just taking it one day at a time.”

The Nationals claimed the 24-year-old on Dec. 22 after he was designated for assignment by the Red Sox when they signed outfielder Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract.

Although seemingly having a great opportunity in joining a rebuilding club like the Nationals, the infielder isn’t too concerned about rejuvenating his career. Instead, he’s focused on his game and the little things in camp.

“I try not to think about those things,” he said of getting back to top-prospect status. “I try to just worry where my feet are at and put my best foot forward each and every day and let everything else take care of itself.”

A shortstop who may project better as a second baseman, Downs can also play third base, and joins an infield group that features fellow young talents CJ Abrams, Luis García, Jake Alu and Lucius Fox.

“It's super fun, it's super fun,” Downs said. “Jeter, I think we all push each other, we all compete out there. They're also a group of great guys, so we all have fun, we all enjoy each other's company and it's been fun so far.”

He’s played both second and short and will soon even get the chance to play some in the outfield, showing the versatility the Nationals value so much.

“I love what I've seen so far,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He could play shortstop, he could play second. He hasn't played third yet, but he could play third and he also could play the outfield. Rumor has it he can play center field really well. So eventually, as we get going, we'll probably get him in the outfield a little bit. He's a gamer, he plays the game the right way. He understands how to run the bases, he knows how to steal bases. So far, I like what I see.”

Downs is trying to get his bat going this spring. He has a hit, an RBI, a walk, a hit by pitch and three stolen bases in five spring training games. He’s a career .240 hitter over five minor league seasons in the Reds, Dodgers and Red Sox systems, and slashed .154/.171/.256 in his only extended major league stint with Boston last year.

“I'm just trying to be a baseball player,” he said. “Whatever that takes. Doing everything that has been asked of me and just being consistent in every facet of the game.”

“We just got to continue to get him reps,” Martinez said. “We want to get him to understand his swing path a little bit better. Getting the barrel through the zone, keep it in the zone. So we're working on some stuff with him with that. But I think he's gonna be able to help us this year. We'll continue to work with him and build with him, but we like him a lot.”

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