Red Sox 25 in 25: Mookie Betts


The BoSox Injection staff’s preview of the Boston Red Sox 25-man roster continues with a look at outfielder Mookie Betts.

They hype train was running full speed ahead for Mookie Betts heading into last season, but the 22-year old more than lived up to those sky-high expectations in his first full season in the big leagues.

Betts equaled the .291 average he produced in a limited sample size in 2014, but saw an uptick in power that brought his OPS up to .820 last season. His 42 doubles were the third most in the American League, to go along with 8 triples and 18 homers. Add that all together and you get 68 extra-base hits, which was good for 9th in the league. Since 2010, only Mike Trout has collected more extra-base hits in a season at age 22 or younger.

The converted infielder also impressed in his first year as a full-time outfielder. Betts spent most of the year in center field, where he had +9 defensive runs saved, but is expected to shift over to right field in 2016 to make room for Jackie Bradley. The Red Sox essentially have three center fielders on their roster, but with Bradley being one of the game’s best defensive players it’s only natural that he would be the primary center fielder. Betts will settle in just fine in right field, where he has saved 4 runs in 23 career starts over the last two seasons.

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He may be young, but it hasn’t taken Betts long to establish himself as one of the most valuable position players in the league. He tied for 6th in the league with a 6.0 WAR, which was fourth best among AL outfielders. Players from last place teams rarely get much consideration for MVP awards, especially those that have no prior track record, but Betts was so impressive that he earned enough votes to finish 19th in the race.

Seeing how Betts builds on this momentum will be one of the most enticing story lines to follow in 2016 for the Red Sox. He will continue to serve as the lead-off hitter, where he saw 553 of his 654 plate appearances last year. Some early season struggles saw him bounce around the order a bit, but now that Betts has established himself as one of the top lead-off hitters in the game he should now find himself locked into that spot.

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One thing that Betts will need to work on in order to remain an elite lead-off hitter is increasing his on-base percentage, which fell from .368 in his limited rookie season to .341 last year. His batting average remained the same, so this drop came exclusively as a result of his walk rate dropping from 9.9 percent to 7.0 last season. That’s not terrible, but it put him in the middle of the pack at 39th in the league among the 68 qualified hitters. The good news is that his drop in walks was at least partially offset by a lower strikeout rate, which he cut down to 12.5 percent. The end result was a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 0.56, which ranked 22nd in the league.

Betts is clearly a player on the rise that could be a long way from reaching his ceiling. He has already established himself as one of the league’s best outfielders and should be a lock to make his first All-Star game this year if he manages to at least match last year’s impressive results. If the Red Sox bounce back to become the contenders they are expected to be then Betts could even end up with a starting spot on a loaded AL outfield squad. If there is any position player on this roster capable of making a run at an MVP award this season, it will be Betts.

Next: Red Sox should not spend for Justin Upton

His upside is as great as any hitter on this roster, so it seems only a matter of time before he injects himself into the conversation of the league’s best players.