There’s not much more exciting in baseball than a top prospect breaking through to the big leagues. The player is often seen as a new hope for any team and has a lot of expectations placed upon him right away. After seeing how Blake Swihart is doing so far, Rick Rowand takes a look at Mookie Betts to see how he’s progressing in his first full season in Major League Baseball.
As the weather heats up, so has the Boston Red Sox version of the early Seventies power trio Beck, Bogert and Appice. Betts, Bogaerts and Swihart, who average just under 23 years of age, were deemed “untouchable” by the Sox front office earlier this year when trade rumors involving Cole Hamels were swirling around the internet.
In 2014, the Boston Red Sox converted second baseman Mookie Betts to the outfield because of injuries and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s struggles in the batter’s box. Even though Bradley played Gold Glove quality defense, he finished the 2014 season hitting just .198/.265/.266 playing primarily in center field. In 80 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2013, Bradley hit .275/.374/.469. Bradley only played 14 games for Pawtucket in 2014 before he was promoted to Boston.
Betts was blocked at second because of All-Star Dustin Pedroia. The Sox felt that Betts’s excellent speed and overall athleticism would allow him to quickly transition to an unfamiliar position. While learning a new position at the major league level is never easy, Betts certainly made it look that way with some great catches and generally taking good routes to balls. He also played 14 games at second when Pedroia had season-ending wrist surgery.
His conversion to a new position certainly didn’t affect him at the plate. In 52 games in 2014, Betts hit .291/.368/.444 with five home runs, one triple and 12 doubles. His BABIP was .327, which was much lower than it had been in 2013 and 2014 in the minors where it ranged from .322 in A ball to .380 in AAA.
Betts started the 2015 season as the opening day centerfielder, but the story started off a bit different for him the first three months of the season at the plate. He finished April hitting .230/.313/.345 with a K rate of 17% (17 Ks) and a BABIP of .261. His performance in May was better. He hit .259/.296/.422 with a lower K rate of 8% (10 Ks) and a BABIP of .257. Betts was hitting the ball hard in March/April – 31.9% and in May – 28.7%, but he had been unlucky and this was reflected in his early season stats. League average for hard hit ball % is 28.6%. He has raised his percentage in June to 35.1%.
June has been remarkably different for Betts. This month he has had a 13 game hitting streak that ended Saturday, June 27th in Tampa Bay. He was also named the AL Player of the Week for the week ending June 21st. He went 18 for 31 with seven extra base hits and two home runs. This was after he face-planted into the bullpen wall in the triangle trying to run down a fly ball. Overall in June, Betts is hitting .329/.374/.565 with a BABIP of .342. He also has only struck out 9 times. These numbers are as of the end of the game against Tampa on Saturday. The MLB average BABIP is .298, so we certainly don’t expect Betts to continue this offensive surge as his BABIP normalizes closer to average, but I feel confident saying that he should be closer to what he was offensively in 2014 than he was in the first three months of 2015. He will remain one of the few bright spots for the Boston Red Sox while patrolling centerfield for years to come.
*stats are courtesy of fangraphs.com
***Stay tuned for Part 3