Upon Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s request, Nick Yorke made his first start of the spring in Thursday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Pirates at LECOM Park.
Yorke made the trip from Fort Myers to Bradenton as a minor-league extra after making his spring debut as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Orioles in Sarasota. He did not receive an at-bat in that game.
“I wanted to see him today,” Cora said of Yorke when speaking with reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) before first pitch on Thursday. “I don’t usually request players. I haven’t seen him in a while. He was there the other day, I was like, ‘Hey, bring him over here.'”
Serving as Boston’s starting second baseman and No. 9 hitter, Yorke put his athleticism on full display with one out in the bottom of the third inning. With Bryan Reynolds already at first base, Red Sox starter Josh Winckowski got Carlos Santana to lift a 213-foot flyball to right field.
Since right fielder Daniel Palka was well out of range, Yorke turned on the jets and covered 85 feet in a matter of seconds before sprawling out and making a fantastic diving catch to rob Santana of a base hit. He then quickly gathered himself and made an accurate throw to Triston Casas from his knees to double off Reynolds — who was off on contact — at first base.
“It was just a little popup over my head,” Yorke said (via MLB.com’s Ian Browne) following Boston’s 7-4 win over Pittsburgh. “I saw Palka was out deep so it was either going to drop or I was going to catch it — so I went out and caught it. There was a runner on first and he was gone. It was going to drop or I’m going to lay out for it. Once I laid out for it, I reached out and I thought I had a chance on it and it found the mitt.”
In addition to making that diving grab, Yorke went 1-for-3 with a fifth-inning single before being replaced at second base by Eddinson Paulino in the middle of the seventh.
The Red Sox originally selected Yorke with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 amateur draft out of Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif. The soon-to-be 21-year-old infielder is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 7 prospect in Boston’s farm system.
After being named the organization’s minor-league offensive player of the year in 2021, Yorke took a step back at the plate last season. The right-handed hitter batted just .232/.3o3/.365 with 10 doubles, one triple, 11 home runs, 45 RBIs, 48 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 94 strikeouts in 80 games (373 plate appearances) for High-A Greenville. He was also sidelined by turf toe in late May, back stiffness in June, and left wrist soreness in July.
Despite those struggles, Yorke did enjoy some success in the Arizona Fall League to close out the year. He slashed .342/.424/.526 with eight doubles, two homers, and 18 RBIs in 19 games (92 plate appearances) with the Scottsdale Scorpions and earned AFL All-Star honors for his efforts.
“Some people are down on him. Not me,” said Cora. “He’s very calm at the plate. He swings at the right pitches. Obviously, he’s working on a few things timing-wise. He’s a good player. You guys know how I feel about first-rounders. You have to be a really good player, and he’s a good hitter.
“He controls the zone, and we like him a lot,” Cora added. “I think physically he’s in a good spot. I’ve talked to him a few times. Mentally, he’s in a great place. Now it’s just a matter of other things that he does.”
That Cora specifically asked the Red Sox player development staff to have a minor-leaguer such as Yorke travel with the rest of the team for Thursday’s game is a rare occurrence. Yorke himself was gracious for the opportunity.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I’ve said it in previous interviews: My goal is to the second baseman for the Boston Red Sox. And so when the head coach asks you to be here, that means a lot.”
Yorke is expected to make the jump to Double-A Portland for the start of the 2023 minor-league season next month. While he has been known more for his hitting abilities than his defensive prowess, the 6-foot, 200-pounder is out to prove he can pick it at second base as well.
“No one can just hit in the big-leagues,” said Yorke. “You have to have some sort of contribution on defense as well. So shoutout to our infield coordinator Darren Fenster, he’s helped me out a lot over the past two and a half years.”
(Picture of Nick Yorke: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)