Red Sox prospect Nick Yorke making progress defensively at second base

FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Nick Yorke #80 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the MGM Sox at Sundown spring training team night workout on February 24, 2021 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Nick Yorke #80 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the MGM Sox at Sundown spring training team night workout on February 24, 2021 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox prospect Nick Yorke is improving at second base

Nick Yorke was a surprise pick with the No. 17 overall selection in the 2020 draft but nobody is questioning the decision following a strong season at the Single-A levels that has him rapidly rising in prospect rankings. He’s now the top second baseman in the Boston Red Sox farm system and the only question is whether or not he’ll remain at that position long-term.

Yorke was outstanding in his first season of professional baseball, hitting .323 with a .913 OPS, 10 home runs, 14 doubles, four triples and 11 stolen bases in 76 games with Low-A Salem. The 19-year-old impressively performed even better when tested at High-A Greenville, hitting .333 with a .978 OPS in 21 games following his promotion.

Baseball America named Yorke their Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year. He’s only the 10th teenager since 2006 to slash .300/.400/.500 in a full  minor league season, joining an impressive list that includes Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

There’s little doubt that Yorke will continue to hit as he climbs the minor league ladder but his defense has been a bit questionable. He committed nine errors in 85 games this year to produce a .976 fielding percentage. Only six major league second baseman owned a lower fielding percentage this season (minimum 50 games at the position).

According to Chad Jennings of The Athletic, Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham was encouraged by Yorke’s progress in the field and believes he’ll stick at the position.

"“He showed how much improvement he can make in one offseason, just with his body, his athleticism, his improvements on defense,” Abraham said. “To me, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t continue to improve and be an impact player there.”"

It’s notable that all nine of Yorke’s errors were committed during his time in Salem. The sample size in Greenville is small with only 19 games as a second baseman (he was the designated hitter for two games) but Yorke was mistake-free in the field when he moved up to the higher level. This points to the improvement that Abraham noted and bodes well for Yorke’s future.

The Red Sox value versatility and we’ve seen them test their prospects at different positions to open more paths for them to advance through the system. Many teams let their prospects focus on one position early in their careers before expanding their versatility as they move up in the system but the Red Sox are embracing a utility role for certain players early. Ceddanne Rafaela is a defensive wizard who can provide elite defense at almost any position. Tyler McDonough was drafted primarily for his bat but he was used as an infielder and in the outfield when he arrived in Salem.

The same approach to development wasn’t taken with Yorke, who remained exclusively at second base or DH. It seems the Red Sox are intent on grooming him as their second baseman of the future by giving him every opportunity to improve and learn the fundamentals.

That strategy could change depending on what the Red Sox do with their major league roster in the time it takes Yorke to reach the big leagues. Top prospect Marcelo Mayer, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, won’t be far behind in his ascension to the majors. Assuming Xander Bogaerts doesn’t opt-out with the intention of leaving after next season, he should still be around when Mayer emerges to claim the shortstop position. Moving Bogaerts to second base to clear a path for Mayer would be a logical solution but that would block Yorke.

While the lockout has temporarily frozen activity on the free-agent market, the Red Sox are expected to be active once a new collective bargaining agreement is in place. If the Red Sox sign a middle infielder to a long-term deal to handle second base or push Bogaerts to the position earlier than anticipated, Yorke would find another roadblock in his path.

Yorke is still several years away from reaching the majors and we could see plenty of turnover with Boston’s roster in the meantime. Second base appears to be a position of need right now but it’s uncertain if that will be the case when Yorke is ready. The Red Sox could cycle through temporary solutions until then but if they find a long-term option instead, Yorke needs to be prepared to adapt.

Yorke’s bat will undoubtedly lead him to the majors at some point, it’s just a matter of where he’ll play. His promising improvements are an encouraging sign that he’s capable of sticking at second base. If the Red Sox ultimately move him to another position, it should be based on a need to fit him on the roster rather than a sign that he can’t handle second base.

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