BOSTON — Mookie Betts’ first major league stint with the Red Sox lasted 16 days. The 21-year-old played in 10 games.
Betts was optioned back to Triple-A Pawtucket before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park to make room for outfielder Shane Victorino, who was activated from the disabled list. It shouldn’t be long before Betts finds his way back to Boston, though, as the rookie showed flashes of what makes him one of the organization’s top prospects during his brief big league call-up.
Clearly, Betts still is developing and the sample size is small, so it’s hard to make too many judgments based on his two-plus weeks with the Red Sox. First impressions always mean something, though, so let’s take stock of the rookie’s first go-round in The Show.
Betts worked just one walk in his 37 plate appearances, but his discipline and patience was apparent. Betts, who owns a .408 on-base percentage in 276 career minor league games, saw 4.03 pitches per plate appearance with Boston. He swung at only 14.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone — around 30 percent is considered average, so Betts’ plate discipline thus could be considered well above average.
“I thought he managed his at-bats well,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Saturday. “I thought he showed very good presence or at least composure for a guy who has flown through our system.”
Betts hit .235 (8-for-34) with one homer, two RBIs and a .278 on-base percentage. It wasn’t the emphatic arrival many might have envisioned based on his minor league track record — Betts is hitting .345 with eight homers, 48 RBIs and a .437 on-base percentage in 77 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season — but there were a few instances in which the ball jumped off his bat, particularly his lone home run into the Monster Seats on July 2 against the Chicago White Sox.
Betts only had 29 games of outfield experience in the minors before joining the Red Sox. It showed, particularly from a route-running standpoint. Betts made a few defensive miscues, including one in his first game, when he got a little overaggressive on a line drive hit by Ichiro Suzuki at Yankee Stadium.
“He’s a work in progress defensively, particularly in the outfield,” Farrell said. “And he’ll continue to get exposure in center and in right field at Pawtucket while also playing some second base, so that’s the plan going forward for him defensively.”
Betts just recently began playing the outfield. He was drafted as a middle infielder in 2011 and has spent the bulk of his time at second base (229 minor league games). It’s unclear where Betts’ long-term defensive future resides, especially with Dustin Pedroia manning second base in Boston, but his obvious athleticism should enable him to morph into an adequate outfielder if the Red Sox go down that route.
“I don’t know that there’s a clear-cut answer to that right now,” Farrell said Saturday when asked where the Red Sox envision him playing. “There’s going to be a number of things that contribute to that final positioning: How the bat plays, how he further develops defensively, is he a guy that potentially moves around to a number of positions? I wouldn’t rule that out. But to sit here today and say that Mookie is going to be at this position for the next 10 years, I don’t have that answer in my crystal ball.”
Betts’ biggest contributions during his call-up came on the bases, where he showed off his wheels on several occasions. The most notable instances, of course, occurred July 9, when Betts hustled his way to an infield double and scored from first base on a ball hit into the left field gap en route to sparking a come-from-behind win over the White Sox.
Betts, who has 88 stolen bases in the minors (29 this season), only swiped one bag on two attempts with Boston, but the thefts should come in time. His speed is an asset.
Keep in mind that Betts doesn’t turn 22 until October. Many viewed him as the savior to the Red Sox’s sputtering offense, when, in reality, those expectations simply weren’t fair. Betts still is developing.
If there’s one thing that was obvious during Betts’ brief call-up, however, it’s that he brings a certain level of energy that can’t be taught. That bodes well for his future in Boston whenever he returns.
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