BOSTON — Mookie Betts still is navigating through unfamiliar territory. Some turbulence should be expected.
Betts, drafted as a second baseman in 2011, has been learning the outfield for roughly three months. He has adapted well to the position change, largely because of his natural talent, but there are going to be growing pains. The Red Sox were offered a reminder during Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park.
Betts, who has just 63 games of professional outfield experience under his belt, made an excellent play in the second inning when David Freese drilled a ball toward the triangle. It initially looked like it had a chance to leave the yard and land in the Red Sox’s bullpen, but Betts, showing great range, raced over to make the catch before bumping into the wall. He then fired back toward the infield to double up Erick Aybar, who vacated first base.
That was the good.
Two innings later, Freese — hell bent on testing the 21-year-old, apparently — hit a sinking line drive into center field. Betts read it poorly and was unable to recover. He dived forward in an attempt to make the catch, but the ball scooted past him and to the wall, allowing Freese to race into third base with a triple.
That was the bad.
Betts could become a more consistent defender in time, but it isn’t going to happen overnight, as Tuesday again showed. The Red Sox fully understand that they’re dealing with a work in progress, though, and they’re willing to ride the ups and downs.
“I think every game played in center field is going to be a positive experience for him given that he’s gone through a positional change this season,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “(It will be important), particularly against major league hitters and (their) ability to drive the ball a little bit more consistently here than might be otherwise at the Triple-A level. Every game played here is going to be a positive one for him.”
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington expressed confidence before Tuesday’s game in Betts’ ability to become an everyday outfielder. The prevailing thought is that the former fifth-round pick’s athleticism will enable him to be successful wherever he’s stationed on the diamond.
“He’s a terrific athlete. He’s performed at a high level offensively at the minor league level. He’s already shown progress defensively in the outfield compared to when he was here the first time,” Cherington said. “With someone who has this kind of athleticism and overall instincts for the game, you’d expect the defensive side of it to continue to improve and that learning curve would be fairly quick I would think for him.”
“Being an infielder my whole life and moving out to the outfield and playing on the biggest stage, it’s a big adjustment,” Betts said. “But I think I can handle it.”
Betts probably will handle it. It just won’t be smooth sailing right away.