Mookie Betts has had an impressive first half to his first full year in the majors, even drawing some comparisons to Andrew McCutchen. While that is some high praise, it may be heaping a bit too much on the 22-year old outfielder. Damian Dydyn takes a look at Mookie and the Cutch to see how Betts measures up to McCutchen.
In part one of this series we looked at Mookie Betts and Andrew McCutchen at the plate to see if the comparisons being thrown around were accurate. Turns out that while they share some things in common, including their batting stance, there are some key differences and one big one that will probably keep Mookie from actually becoming the next McCutchen as he approaches his prime. With that in mind, we turn away from the plate and look at the rest of Betts’s game.
On the Base Paths
While running the bases, Mookie is already comfortably above league average, showing excellent situational awareness, speed and baserunning instincts. These traits help him to take extra bases frequently, stretching singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Mookie does an excellent job of timing pitchers and gets very good jumps when he attempts a steal which is on display in this July 2nd steal against the Blue Jays:
His exceptional situational awareness has also paid off several times, most notably on April 13th of this year against the Nationals. In the third inning, he stole second base, noticed no one was covering third and immediately hopped up and won a foot race with Yunel Escobar and pitcher Jordan Zimmermann:
Betts is currently 18th in the majors with 13 steals and is rated 4th by fangraphs for value on the bases. By contrast, Andrew McCutchen currently has 5 steals and is 61st, and had 18 steals last year while ranking 52nd.
In the Field
Mookie and McCutchen both bring excellent athleticism and speed to the outfield with the big difference being that Mookie was converted to center field last year. Since Betts is still learning the position, comparing them directly isn’t exactly fair. What we can do instead is look at what Betts does well and where he can improve.
Mookie generally takes good routes to the ball and has excellent range with great closing speed. These were all on display almost immediately after he was moved from second base and can be seen here in this running catch in left-center field last August against the Angels:
Betts also quickly become comfortable with the dimensions in Fenway’s center field. which he demonstrated in the same April 13th game where he stole second and then third, by robbing Bryce Harper of a home run:
He checks the wall while still a dozen steps away then finds the ball again and keeps his eyes locked on it, knowing just when to leap to make the catch and not go tumbling into the bullpen.
Of course, being new to the position, he is still a work in progress and will occasionally get a bad read on a ball, especially when it is hit directly at him:
That play was from March 27th, near the end of spring training. He was able to compensate for the misstep with his athleticism and speed, but he breaks back on a ball that should have been an easy play with a few steps forward. These are the kinds of mistakes that will grow less frequent with more experience and if this is the worst we can point to when examining his defense then he is already in a very good place.
Still nearly three months shy of his 23rd birthday, Mookie Betts is already a comfortably above average player at the major league level. With room to fill out and add some power, the expectation that he will continue to improve defensively and already possessing excellent awareness and instincts, his future is extremely bright. He will very likely never develop the power that Andrew McCutchen has, as noted by Dave Cameron in the story linked in part one, but he can end up falling short of that level of production while still being an exceptional player.