Cal notes: Downs finds niche with Quakes

Jeter namesake heating up in first season in Dodgers system

Jeter Downs shares the California League lead with 29 RBIs and is tied for third with 71 total bases. (Jerry Espinoza/MiLB.com)

By Merisa Jensen / Special to MiLB.com | May 20, 2019 11:00 AM

Jeter Downs was destined to be a baseball player.

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes shortstop was, after all, named after Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

"My mom just loved Jeter and how he played and how he went about his business and that's how it came to be," Downs said.

The Dodgers' No. 7 prospect looks up to Jeter's style of play but also stays true to who he is as a player.

"I try my best," Downs said. "At the end of the day, I want to be me but just try to look at what he did and learn from his game and try to be the best version of myself I can be."

Downs' brother, Jerry Downs, plays for Double-A Portland in the Red Sox organization. His brother is 4 1/2 years older and they help each other out all the time.

"We talk every day," the younger Downs said, adding they boost one another when they're struggling. "Him and my dad know my swing better than anybody. They've seen me play since I was 5 years old. They're the best coaches for me."

Downs struggled at the beginning of the season, but his bat has started to heat up. Heading into Sunday's matinee, he was hitting .409 over his last 10 games.

"Not trying to do too much and just let the game come to me," he said.

Drafted 32nd overall by the Reds in 2017, Downs came to the Dodgers last December in the trade that sent Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer to Cincinnati. Los Angeles also received Major League veteran Homer Bailey and 21-year-old right-hander Josiah Gray, Downs' teammate with the Quakes.

"I thank the Reds for giving me the opportunity and trusting me and my talents and giving me that chance," Downs said. "But now I'm with the Dodgers organization and I'm just trying to go out and play baseball and do my job."

Learning the business side of the game early in his career wasn't easy, but the transition has been a smooth one.

"I knew some guys coming in, so it hasn't been too bad," Downs said. "We're all starting to mesh well and we're playing really well as a team."

The California climate has been a welcome change for the 20-year-old, who played Class A ball in Dayton, Ohio, last year.

"The weather is definitely a lot better over here," he said. "The first month and half over there, playing in 30-degree weather, wasn't fun at all. But it's part of the game. You've got to grind through it."

Downs played second base in the Reds system but moved back to his normal position, shortstop, with Rancho Cucamonga.

"Wherever the coach wants to put me, I'm going to go out and do my job, but short is my first love," he said. "I just love it because you're always involved in every play. It's an action position that you need to be on your toes and you need to know what's going on. You can't just be laid back and relaxing out there."

2019 MiLB include

Downs likes a challenge, but he also tries to remember that he's playing a game and it's supposed to be fun, which is how he approaches things.

"Just working hard in pregame and doing all that stuff and then going to the game and just having fun and letting all of that stuff take care of itself," he said. "I try not to put too much pressure on myself and try not to do too much. I feel like when you do that, you just start pressing and things don't really work out as planned. So just go out and have fun and enjoy the game.

"I've loved this game since I was 5 years old. There's competition, but it's still a game."

In brief

Big milestone: Lancaster broadcaster Jason Schwartz called his 1,000th game on April 23 at Lake Elsinore. Schwartz has been the JetHawks' play-by-play voice since 2012, the year they won their first California League championship. Lancaster claimed two titles in Schwartz's first three years behind the mic but lost his 1,000th game, 3-1.

Matching the Majors: A few Cal League teams are even in the standings with their big league affiliates. Rancho Cucamonga sits atop the South Division standings, while the Dodgers are in first place in the National League West. Visalia leads the North Division, while the D-backs are second behind the Dodgers in the NL West. The Padres are third, the same spot their Lake Elsinore affiliate occupies in the South Division.

San Jose is second in the North Division, while the Giants are last in the NL West. But the two teams shared the same number of wins heading into Sunday's games: San Jose was 19-23, while San Francisco was 19-25. The Mariners are at the bottom of the American League West, while Modesto is third in the North Division; the A's are third in the AL West, with Stockton are last in the North. The Angels are second in the AL West, but Inland Empire is last in the South. And the Rockies are third in the NL West, while Lancaster is second in the South.

Merisa Jensen is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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