While the Red Sox have added huge depth to the middle of their lineup this offseason, signing free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to expensive, multiyear contracts, the top of Boston’s batting order is still up for debate. Names like Brock Holt, Shane Victorino, and Rusney Castillo have all been tossed around as potential candidates; however, the man for the job is clearly 22-year old Mookie Betts and it’s really not even close.
Betts’ meteoric rise through the Red Sox organization has been well-documented as he went from an unheralded fifth-round pick in 2011 to one of the organization’s top prospects in 2013 to one of baseball’s top prospects in 2014. After posting video game numbers between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket last season, where he hit .346/.431/.529 with 11 home runs and 33 stolen bases in just 99 games, he earned a promotion to Boston.
In 52 games with the big club, Betts came as advertised as he hit .291/.368/.444 and showed his dynamic combination of speed and on-base percentage. With a career walk rate of 13.3% and surprising pop for a player of his stature (listed at 5’9″ and 180 pounds), Betts profiles as the ideal leadoff hitter for Boston’s future.
But with a lack of other legitimate options for the leadoff spot, why shouldn’t Betts’ career as Red Sox leadoff hitter start as soon as April 6th in Philadelphia?
Holt, Victorino, and Castillo all have strong tools; Holt has shown flashes of brilliance, Victorino has good speed and reaches base at an above-average rate, and Castillo has blazing speed and profiles as an excellent hitter. However, all have major flaws and none offer the complete package that Betts brings to the table. Holt hit just .219/.278/.271 after the All-Star break last season, Victorino has struggled against right-handed pitching in his career, and Castillo is unproven and is a very aggressive hitter.
Meanwhile, Betts has the ability to grind out at-bats in the typical Red Sox fashion and has worked walks at a phenomenal rate, in addition to being an excellent, speedy baserunner. And although Betts might not be proven at the major league level, his skill set is one that will translate well to the major league style of play and he is a good bet to live up to expectations, as prospects go. Red Sox manager John Farrell might not announce it for a while, but if you’re betting on it, put your money on Betts standing in the batters’ box to kick off the 2015 season.