October 28, 2013 at 8:00 AM
SoxProspects.com is counting down its season-end top 40 prospects, recapping their seasons and previewing what's ahead in 2014. You can find all of the entries in this year's series here.
#10: Mookie Betts, 2B
2013 Team: Greenville Drive/Salem Red Sox
Final Stats: 551 PA, .314/.417/.506, 15 HR, 36 2B, 4 3B, 81 BB, 57 K, 38 SB
Pre-2013: Boston drafted Betts, a Louisville Slugger High School All-American, out of Overton (Tenn.) High School in the fifth round in 2011. The 18-year-old shortstop signed a hefty $750,000 bonus five minutes before the midnight deadline, electing to forego his commitment to the University of Tennessee. Betts reported to extended spring training in Fort Myers following the signing, and made his pro debut in the GCL that same year, getting two hits in four at-bats with a stolen base in what would be his lone game of the year.
Last year, Betts was assigned to short-season Lowell. Betts, playing as one of the youngest members on the Spinners at 19, split his time between shortstop and second base in his first 18 games in the New York Penn League before the organization permanently moved him to second in early July. Betts committed six total errors while serving as Lowell’s shortstop in 2012, three in his final game at the position. Coincidentally, Betts displayed minor improvement at the plate following the positional change, as he hit .275/.378/.319 in 218 plate appearances after the transition compared to his .246/.274/.275 in 74 plate appearances prior to the move. For the season, Betts batted .267/.352/.307 with eight doubles, one triple, 32 walks, 30 strikeouts and 20 stolen bases, and put himself on the edge of the radar as a player to watch in 2013.
2013 Season in Review: Simply put, this was a breakout season for Betts, and that may even be an understatement. The second baseman began the year in Greenville, where he initially struggled, as he hit .145 with a .263 slugging percentage in his first 100 plate appearances at the new level. But he drew 23 walks in that span, or just nine fewer walks as he did in 292 plate appearances with Lowell in 2012, good enough to make his on-base percentage .340 despite his low batting average. From there on out, though, Betts found his groove at the dish. He collected a hit in 34 of his final 53 games in Greenville, which included a 19-game hitting streak and a 33-game on-base streak, to hit .353/.451/.557 with six home runs, 23 doubles and 35 walks in that span. His production didn't skip a beat following his promotion to Salem on July 9, as he hit .341/.414/.551 with seven home runs, 12 doubles, 23 walks and 20 stolen bases in 211 plate appearances with Salem, and was a key member in the club’s run to the Mills Cup Championship. For the year, Betts, who jumped 43 spots in the SoxProspects.com rankings over the course of the season, batted .314/.417/.506 with 15 home runs, 81 walks, and 38 stolen bases, and was named the system’s offensive player of the year by both the club and us at SoxProspects.com.
First-Hand Report and 2014 Preview: Betts’ offensive explosion was fun to watch from afar, but to see his skill-set in person allows a better understanding of why he was so successful. Despite a small frame, Betts has a good eye at the plate and takes advantage of his pitch recognition with a quick, powerful swing from the right side. Betts, like so many of Boston’s prospects, has bought into the organization’s “selectively aggressive” hitting philosophy. Despite his impressive power numbers, some of Betts’ extra-base hits came from his speed and baserunning skills. Betts has found a home at second base and is a very good defender there, showing very good range—his brief pairing with shortstop Deven Marrero in Salem provided perhaps the best up-the-middle defense the system had seen in years. How he’s used in 2014 will likely depend on those around him. Betts caught up to fellow prospect Sean Coyle late last season, and the two could split second base and DH duties in Portland. With Dustin Pedroia stands to hold down the pivot in Boston for a long time after signing an extension this year, members of the Sox front office have acknowledged in interviews that there are internal discussions about what to do with Betts going forward. Still, if history is any indication, any positional move for Betts won’t come until he reaches Pawtucket. – Jon Meoli
Photo Credit: Mookie Betts by Kelly O'Connor.