According to a recent report from WEEI’s Rob Bradford, the Red Sox have internally discussed a contract extension with 22-year old Mookie Betts. Betts impressed in his major league debut last season and has been stellar in spring training but, with just 52 major league games under his belt, it’s worth asking if it’s too early to be talking an extension.
Betts, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011, has hurtled through the minor leagues seemingly at the speed of light during the last two seasons, going from a virtual unknown to one of the top young players in baseball. Despite starting last season in Double-A Portland, Betts hit his way first to Pawtucket and then to Boston, where he proceeded to slash .291/.368/.444 over the course of 52 games.
He entered 2015 in a battle for the starting center field job alongside Rusney Castillo, a competition which he has all but locked up with a phenomenal spring. Betts joined Red Sox camp after adding nearly 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason and the results have showed as he has hit .448/.448/.759 with 5 doubles and 2 triples in just 29 plate appearances. At this point, the Red Sox will likely not just start Betts in center but also will employ him as the team’s leadoff hitter.
Despite his youth, Betts has shown an impressive baseball acumen and his talent is clear, judging from his remarkable minor league numbers. With that in mind, is it really that crazy to be considering an extension?
The answer is no. While Betts is unlikely to develop into a star, given that so few prospects (even the most highly-ranked ones) do, a reasonable contract extension could be well worth the price if he becomes even an above-average regular. A contract in which the Red Sox buy out a few years of Betts’ free agent years in exchange for a few extra dollars while he’s under team control could be beneficial for both sides.
Giving an extension to such a young player is an inherently risky move, but rarely have such signings been huge mistakes. Even the ones that have failed have not been at such a high price that it has precluded other moves. It makes plenty of sense to give an extension to Betts, as it will be worth the money if he even approaches his ceiling. And though it might not happen immediately (if at all), the Red Sox have shown a willingness to extend young players in the past, doing so with Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, and Clay Buchholz, and Betts could be the next in that prestigious line of players.