Nick Yorke scanned Perfect Game's list of prospects entering the 2020 MLB Draft in search of his name. He kept looking, kept looking, kept looking, and finally there he was: No. 139.
When the Red Sox selected him 17th overall in the first round, the industry collectively shuddered and then snickered. A high school second baseman? In the first round? Seriously?
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom dismissed the criticism, noting the team had scouted Yorke extensively as a junior before the pandemic wiped out his senior year at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose. The Red Sox felt entirely comfortable drafting him where they did.
Yorke reacted more viscerally, as 18-year-olds are wired to do. And after a breakout 2021 pro debut, it looks like both Yorke and Bloom may end up getting the last laugh.
"It's a big chip on my shoulder," Yorke said at Fenway in September. "I'm ready to call MLB Network and say, 'Hey, I know you guys are surprised, but here I am. Let's get it going.' I'm excited for that."
To say no one outside the Red Sox organization saw this coming would be an understatement. After a brutal May at Low-A Salem that saw him hit just .195, Yorke exploded. Drafted on the strength of an advanced approach and the ability to square up balls to all fields, he transformed himself into one of the best pure hitters in the minors.
He hit .373 over his final 55 games at Salem to win the Low-A East batting title at .323 while also leading the league in OPS (.913). Promoted to High-A Greenville for the final 21 games, he posted even better numbers despite being the only teenager on the roster, hitting .333 with four homers and a .978 OPS.
Add it all together, and he ended up being named the No. 3 prospect in the system by industry bible Baseball America, and he's sure to crack a number of Top-100 lists this winter. The Red Sox named him their Minor League Offensive Player of the Year after he combined to hit .325 with 14 home runs and 62 RBIs in 97 games.
"The first month, I was putting together some pretty good at-bats," Yorke said. "I was hitting the ball hard, they just weren't finding holes. It's part of the game. So it was kind of just understanding that it's OK, it's going to be a long season, those hits are going to fall sooner or later. So just kind of keep that in mind.
Boston Red Sox
"It was definitely a frustrating month. But I was around a lot of great people; Luke Montz, he was our head coach in Salem. He played in the big leagues for a little bit, too. So he's like, 'Hey, everyone slumps, you're going to get through it, just keep doing your thing.'"
The Red Sox weren't surprised. While they understood the questions about Yorke's athleticism at second -- it's rare that big league middle infielders player anywhere other than shortstop in high school -- they believed his bat would play even if the 6-foot, 205-pounder eventually moves to left field.
They also saw a player fueled by doubts without being consumed by them.
"Internally for us, there is a reason we obviously selected him where he did and what we believed he could do in the present and in the future as well," said farm director Brian Abraham in September. "So it's nice to see him play with a chip on his shoulder. I think that gives him a little extra energy. The work ethic, the passion, the willingness to improve is all there is and obviously it's exciting to have that kind of young player."
Yorke said he grew by seeing 90 mph every day and playing 100 games in his first competitive action since high school. He even went 3 for 13 with a double in spring training, singling off established Braves lefty A.J. Minter in his first at-bat.
He turns 20 in April and could easily find himself in Double A in 2022 on his current trajectory. This much is for certain -- a year after being derided as an overreach, there aren't 138 players better than him in the minors.
"It's motivation," he said. "I mean, I still know the number – I was ranked 139th going into the draft by Perfect Game, but at the end of the day, that's not going to help me get to the big leagues. So every opportunity that I get to be on the field, try to make the most of it and prove to them that I'm better than 139th."