If one prospect serves as a litmus test of Chaim Bloom's ability to rebuild the Red Sox farm system, it's Nick Yorke.
The California high schooler didn't appear on many draft boards before the Red Sox surprised the industry by making him the 17th overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft. MLB Pipeline ranked him 139th overall. The Athletic's Keith Law left him out of his top 100. Baseball America snuck him in at No. 96.
Draft experts immediately scoffed. No one takes a high school second baseman in the first round. Yorke didn't necessarily project to hit for power. Even with the Red Sox losing their second-round pick over sign stealing, he probably would've been available when they picked 89th overall in the third round.
Bloom and his scouting staff disagreed. They identified Yorke as not only a first-round talent, but one of the best pure hitters in the draft. It didn't hurt that signing him below slot gave them extra money to nab high school slugger Blaze Jordan a couple of rounds later.
The experts remain unconvinced of the Red Sox system as a whole. Baseball America and Law rank them 20th in baseball. MLB.com puts them even lower, at 25. Bloom is unsurprisingly more bullish, obliquely acknowledging the controversy over the selection of Yorke.
"I do think we're in a better place," Bloom said recently. "I know the public ranking hasn't moved, and I know some of that probably has to do with us, for instance, in the draft, using our first pick on a player that we felt stronger about than a lot of publications."
With no minor leagues last season, the Red Sox rewarded Yorke with a late-season summons to the alternate site, where he acquitted himself well for a teenager. The surprises continued this spring when Yorke was invited to camp, and on Monday against the Braves he gave the Red Sox a little taste of what kind of hitter he might one day be.
Stepping in against established left-handed reliever A.J. Minter -- he of the 0.83 ERA last year -- the 18-year-old Yorke didn't look remotely overmatched, inside-outing the sixth pitch he saw into right-center for a single. He later drew a walk to complete a solid afternoon in a 5-3 loss.
Not bad for a kid who hasn't even taken a minor-league at-bat yet.
"I have a lot of confidence in myself," Yorke said. "I believe I can hit off any pitcher there is."
He left manager Alex Cora impressed by not exhibiting any nerves, and also by how he handled his first at-bat. Yorke took three pitches without flinching or jumping before getting something he could handle.
"I was thinking of where I was when I was 18, probably in Miami, going to Coconut Grove or something like that, hanging out," Cora said. "It was good, it was cool, that was tremendous. He's here to learn. He's here to be around big leaguers and learn how to act in the clubhouse, how to be a professional. You can see. He controls the strike zone, controls his at-bats and started a routine double play that we didn't turn, but that was the highlight of the day, having that kid play."
While it will probably be a while before we know whether Yorke belongs in the big leagues, a lack of confidence doesn't look like it will hold him back.
"Once (the umpire) said play ball, I was ready to go," Yorke said. "We haven't been able to play on a field a lot in the past year. Just to get on the field is exciting again. You get to do what you love. I didn't have a lot of nerves. It's baseball. At the end of the day, it's just a game. I was just trying to go and have some fun."
That's not a bad attitude for someone who will forever be known as not only Bloom's first Red Sox draft pick, but a bold selection, too. Bloom ignored conventional wisdom to get his man, and someday we'll learn if Yorke can repay him.