Mookie Betts earned a spot at Double-A last spring, moved up to Triple-A after a hot start and eventually landed in the majors, where he continued to assert himself as a future star.
So, what’s next for the 22-year-old?
Well, the Boston Red Sox can start by anointing him as their starting center fielder and leadoff hitter to begin the season. Then, the possibilities are endless.
Betts is leaving no doubt at Red Sox spring training he’s ready for a significant role in 2015, meaning any talk of him starting the season at Pawtucket or with anything other than a full-time big league gig is asinine.
(It was from the start, but his work at camp, both off the field and in games, has spoken volumes.)
There has been absolutely nothing to this point to suggest Betts can’t be one of Boston’s most dynamic threats this season. And even if he ultimately falters, he has done plenty to be afforded the opportunity to stumble. In essence, the Red Sox need to hand him the ball and see if he runs with it.
“He works deep counts, he gets on base, the bat speed is there,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Tampa, Fla., shedding light on why Betts is a perfect leadoff candidate. “He’s obviously got the ability to drive the baseball. He’s an exciting player and seemingly has picked up where he left off last year.”
If Betts truly has picked up where he left off, then Boston’s crowded outfield situation should be irrelevant. Betts hit .291 with five homers, 18 RBIs, seven stolen bases and an .812 OPS in 52 major league games last season. He hit .305 with a .387 on-base percentage in 21 games (93 plate appearances) after becoming Boston’s full-time leadoff hitter Sept. 6.
Yes, the Red Sox gave Rusney Castillo a seven-year, $72.5 million contract. And yes, Shane Victorino is a proven major leaguer who played a key role in Boston’s 2013 World Series win. But in no crevice of this universe should either or both be considered for a starting role, or the leadoff spot, ahead of Betts to begin the season.
That’s not a knock on either Castillo or Victorino. Far from it. It’s simply a testament to Betts’ skill set, potential, early contributions and, above all, poise. Negative impressions simply are nonexistent.
“He’s good. He’s really good,” pitcher Joe Kelly told reporters Wednesday after Betts produced three more hits to raise his Grapefruit League average to .400 (6-fot-15). “He seems to put the bat on the ball and he doesn’t really miss too many pitches.
“If I was pitching against him, he’d be one of those guys where, even though he’s batting leadoff, he’s kind of like (a Jacoby) Ellsbury. You almost got to pitch him like a three-hitter. He’s not looking to walk.”
It’s funny Kelly mentioned Ellsbury, because Betts is the closest thing the Red Sox have to their former leadoff hitter who now dons pinstripes. Betts might not swipe quite as many bags, but his power ceiling is higher. And the fact he won’t cost in excess of $21 million each of the next six seasons is a nice little bonus.
Look, Betts might go through growing pains at some point. It’s pretty much inevitable for young players these days, and the Red Sox saw firsthand with Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. last season that early success should be a welcome development rather than an expected means of production.
But as the Red Sox continue to sort out their crowded outfield with less than four weeks until Opening Day, Betts’ name should be penciled into the projected regular season everyday lineup with confidence. Boston can always adjust accordingly, which is the beauty of the club’s current depth.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images
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