Now that the 2015 season is in the books, the BoSox Injection staff will hand out their final report cards, grading the performances of each member of the Boston Red Sox roster based on their expectations entering the season.
2015 Stats: .291/.341/.479, 18 HR, 77 RBI, 4.8 WAR, 21 stolen bases
Can you feel that? The surge of electricity? The fire burning?
That’s the feeling that Red Sox Nation feels every time their prospect-turned-starter Mookie Betts is smiling. It’s usually because he just did something half-man, half-amazing.
No, this isn’t about NBA star Vince Carter, who burned brightly in his youth in Toronto only to fade from the limelight as he aged. This story is about the 23-year-old, Nashville native who burst onto the scene in 2014 for 52 games in a Boston Red Sox uniform. This is the legend of the man who was thought as second best in a log-jammed outfield in April of 2015. This is just the beginning of what promises to be an All-Star career, filled with highlight-reel catches, clutch hitting, and a pearly smile that lights up the Fenway faithful for years to come.
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Do you remember when Rusney Castillo and Shane Victorino were the likely starters in the Red Sox outfield, along with prodigal son Hanley Ramirez? Han-Ram was to be in left field, no longer to be a shortstop, while Castillo would affirm his phenom status from Cuba in center field and Victorino’s veteran leadership would carry them to glory, especially since after his heroics during the 2013 World Series championship run.
Boy, that trip sure ended quick!
The bus completely lost its wheels. Castillo went down to the minors to rediscover his game, Hanley forgot that it actually takes practice to play the outfield, and Victorino didn’t even last the season before being shipped out to California in a trade.
While it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Betts, hitting just .230 in April, Betts adjusted to MLB pitching quickly. In June, Betts hit .330 and .314 in August. In September, Betts played incredibly well at the plate, smacking a .389 batting average in 26 games.
His success made him the undisputed leadoff man for the Red Sox lineup.
Even in pressure situations, Betts’ smile never left him. He hit .297 in late or close-game situations and also hit .303 with two outs. Time and again, it seemed that Betts was either crossing home plate or driving someone else into home to win ballgames. He scored 92 times for the team while punching in 77 runs with his bat.
He was also a constant terror on the base paths. He stole 21 bases and gave pitchers fits as he always looked to run, or at least made it look that way to the opposing defense.
His own defense was the stuff of myths and legends. His .990 fielding percentage and 2.55 range factor in center field was just the tip of the iceberg to Titanic-esque batters. Betts made so many unbelievable catches that it started becoming a casual occurrence for Bostonians to witness. His one catch in particular, saving the game by catching the ball and falling over the wall in Fenway Park’s right-center field was very similar to Torii Hunter‘s fall in the 2013 playoffs, but with a much more successful outcome. Bet on Betts to put his body on the line every time he puts on his fielding glove.
With that bat and glove, the only thing left to say is that he is one of the youngest starters in the majors. In other words, his potential to improve can only go up from here. Considering his play in 2015 was arguably the best in the American League East, if not in both majors, at the position, Betts will have a great deal of time showing his evolving skills to the world. He’s eligible for arbitration in 2018 and free agency in 2021, giving Red Sox Nation a legendary performance for just $515 thousand a year.
Imagine if Superman could get stronger with age. That’s what we’re talking about in center field for the Red Sox. The question becomes who the members of the outfield to Betts’ left and right will be in 2016.
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