Mookie Betts is a 21 year old athletically gifted talent. A fifth round draft selection in 2011, it's a bit surprising that the Red Sox promoted him given that he's only appeared in 77 games above A-ball. Will he play everyday with the Sox? Where will he play defensively? Is his bat ready for The Show? Are his wheels enough to give him immediate mixed league value? We'll explore.
Markus “Mookie” Betts is 21 years old and coming into the season he was ranked the 75th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America while MLB.com pegged him at #62. Standing just 5'9” and weighing 160 lbs, it's pretty clear what type of player he is/hopes to be. A look at his minor league numbers follows.
2011: He appeared in one game as an 18 year old in Rookie Ball. He had two hits, two RBIs an a steal.
2012: Playing at Low-A Lowell, Betts hit .267 with 20 steals in 71 games. Impressively, he walked more than he struck out (32 to 30).
2013: He appeared in 127 games at Low and High-A ball. In total he hit an impressive .314 with a .417 OBP. He also flashed his speed swiping 38 bags and once again walked more than he struck out, substantially more (81 to 57).
2014: Spent 77 games at Double-A and Triple-A. He was a wondrous performer hitting .345 with a .437 OBP in 359 plate appearances. He was also burning it up on the base paths with 29 steals while being caught only five times.
He's appeared in two games producing a hit, a run, a walk and he's been caught stealing.
Betts is tiny. Did you note how I mentioned his diminutive size above? Honestly, I was literally as big at 14 years old. Betts isn't going to drive the ball into the seats with regularity, but for his size he does drive the ball well. He should try top pattern his stroke after a guy like Brian Roberts (the good version), the type of guy who hits 10-12 homers a year but regularly hits 40 doubles. Bottom line, you don't draft Betts for his power.
What you do draft Betts for are his wheels. In 276 minor league games he swiped 88 bases. Obviously that's a 40+ rate over the course of a full season. Moreover, he was very discerning as he was caught only 13 times. He outran the arm of some catchers, but all reports suggest that he should have success on the base paths in the big leagues.
What sets Betts apart at such a young age from others is his plate discipline. I noted the walks and lack of strikeouts above. Here's some more on that. Betts had 120 Ks in 276 games. Ryan Howard has 101 Ks in 80 games this season. Betts puts the ball in play, and there's a ton to like about that given his skill set. In addition to avoiding the punchout this guy is very impressive in his willingness to take a free pass. In fact, he's walked 44 more times than he's struck out as a minor league (164 to 120). If you do this, you will have a solid batting average. Last season there were eight men in baseball who has 502 plate appearances with a BB/K rate of at least 0.90. Of those eight men only two failed to hit .272 (Alberto Callaspo and Coco Crisp). Hit the ball, don't strike out, and run really fast. That's a recipe for success.
Betts should be expected to work the count, put the ball in play, hit the ball on the ground (44 percent of his batted balls in the minors) and to run really fast for the Red Sox. He should offer each of those traits in spades actually.
PLAYING TIME CONSIDERATIONS
Like all elite level youngsters, you have to figure when said player is called up to the big leagues the plan is for them to play every day (not much sense in letting a young talent waste away on the bench). So where do the Red Sox plan to play Betts?
An infielder by trade, Betts has appeared in 14 games at shortstop and 229 at second base in the minors. The Sox have Dustin Pedroia at second, Stephen Drew at short and Xander Bogaerts at third. There's no spot on the infield for Betts. So the plan appears to be to have him play in the outfield even though he didn't play any outfield until this season (29 games). The Sox outfield is a bit of a mess right now too. Daniel Nava has hit a bit of late but has been a huge disappointment. Shane Victorino cannot get healthy. Jonny Gomes should only play versus lefties. Jackie Bradley Jr. can't seem to find his footing in the bigs. Mike Carp may be about a week to 10 days away from returning from his foot issue. There's certainly a opportunity for Betts to seize a daily gig.
10 team lg: Team dependent. By that I mean whether you add Betts depends on how your current roster is made up. He could end up being anything from Rajai Davis to Brett Gardner if things go right. If they don't go right, or the Sox suddenly get healthy or make a deal, he could be back in the minors in a month.
12 team lg: Should be added to someone's team based up upside alone.
15 team lg: A must add. The wheels should play right off the hop, and with his advanced knowledge of the strike zone it's possible he could be a solid option in the batting average category as well.
AL-only: He should have been drafted, or at worst added a month ago when he was tearing things up. He has the chance to be a difference maker in the second half, at least with his speed.
To see where Betts ranks check out the updated JULY PLAYER RANKINGS.