Starting today, BoSox Injection is beginning our second annual “25 in 25” series, in which we analyze every player on the projected 25-man roster over the course of 25 days. The next 25 days should help you familiarize yourself with the (many) new faces on the Red Sox, as well as the old ones as we’ll break down each player’s potential role and performance level for the 2015 season. As we’ll be going down the list in alphabetical order, we will lead off the “25 in 25” series with the likely lead off hitter of the 2015 Red Sox, Mookie Betts. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Mookie Betts entered the 2014 season as Boston’s #7 prospect, according to Baseball America, following his breakout 2013 season. In that year, Betts went from a virtual unknown in the Red Sox organization to one of the most exciting prospects in the system as he slashed .314/.417/.506 with 15 home runs and 38 stolen bases between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem. Betts had an incredible season, but not all were convinced that he could repeat that during the 2014 season, so Betts came into the 2014 season with the goal of building on his progress. And build on his progress he certainly did.
Remarkably, Betts was even better in 2014 than he had been in 2013, hitting .355/.443/.551 in Double-A Portland before a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he continued to rake. After 45 games with the PawSox, during which he slashed .335/.417/.503, Betts completed his vigorous ascent through the minor leagues with a promotion to Boston.
And in an exceedingly tough 2014 season for the Red Sox, Betts provided a ray of hope during his 52-game tenure in Boston. Betts slashed an impressive .291/.368/.444 with 5 home runs and 7 stolen bases. He wowed Red Sox fans by seemingly hitting everything in sight (he posted an 88.3% contact rate, remarkable for a rookie) and showed phenomenal awareness for a rookie, also possessing the coveted power-speed combination.
2014 was a season in which we caught our first glimpses of many a young star; however, none of them shone brighter than Betts.
Betts was a desirable name on the trade market this winter, and for good reason, but the Red Sox front office wisely refused to trade the 22-year old. After his impressive stint with the Red Sox last season, Betts has earned a position on the big league team and will be an everyday starter. In fact, in a recent interview, John Farrell noted that Betts, along with utility man Brock Holt, was on the short list of leadoff candidates for the Red Sox.
Considering his skill set and poise, the leadoff role could be an excellent fit for Betts. It’s unreasonable to expect Betts to continue hitting at his 2014 levels (as Betts would have posted nearly 6 WAR, which would have put him as a top-ten player in baseball), given that all rookies struggle in their first extended taste of the show (just look at equally highly-touted Xander Bogaerts for reference). However, his high contact and walk rates are “high-floor” tools and his propensity for putting the ball in play make him less likely to suffer extended slumps, so he may not fall as far as is typical for MLB sophomores.
One of the few remaining questions about Betts’ 2015 role is what position he’ll be manning. Betts was drafted in 2011 as a shortstop, then moved to second base in 2013, and then moved to the outfield last season– playing both center and right field down the stretch. With Dustin Pedroia fully healthy, Betts will obviously be in the outfield, but the debate is whether he’ll be in center or right. He has the speed to man either position but his arm, the reason that he moved from shortstop to second base, may not be as strong as Rusney Castillo‘s, making Betts more of a fit for center field.
Still, regardless of where Betts plays, expect him to make an impact next season. Even though he’ll certainly go through a few slumps, he should still be one of the better young players in baseball and a slash line around .280/.350/.440 is not out of reach for Betts. He might not be an elite player right off the bat (a la Mike Trout), but he should be at least a solid contributor, and as a 22-year old drafted in the fifth round, that’s about as much as one can expect.