November 24, 2014 at 7:30 AM
As a special extension of our Top 40 in Review series, are closing this year by featuring the six players who were ranked in the SoxProspects.com Top 10 during the 2014 season and graduated from prospect status.
Mookie Betts, 2B/OF
Peak System Ranking: #1
Graduated: September 12 (#1)
2014 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs, Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston Red Sox
Final Stats: 213 PA, .291/.368/.444, 12 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 21 BB, 31 K, 7 SB (majors)
464 PA, .346/.431/.529, 30 2B, 5 3B, 11 HR, 61 BB, 50 K, 33 SB (minors)
Season in Review: In 2013, Betts raised his profile from a deep sleeper into a top-ten prospect in a deep system. After ranking outside the top 30 entering that season, the 21-year-old came into 2014 ranked 10th on the SoxProspects.com rankings and was a Preseason All-Star. The Red Sox continued their aggressive promotion of Betts and started him in Portland, where he was almost four years younger than the average position player. He immediately picked up where he'd left off in 2013, emerging on the national scene with a 66-game regular season on-base streak extending into the prior campaign. The Betts hype machine kicked into full gear in May, when he began playing games in center field, answering the often-asked question of how he would get to the majors with Boston while Dustin Pedroia mans second base.
By the time Betts was promoted to Pawtucket on June 6, over 214 at-bats, he hit .355/.443/.551 with eight doubles, six home runs, three triples, 22 steals in 25 attempts, and 35 walks to only 20 strikeouts. Along the way he earned himself SoxProspects.com and Sea Dogs Player of the Month honors in April. Were he eligible, he would have led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS, placed second in slugging, and 11th in steals despite only playing in 54 games.
Upon arriving in Pawtucket, despite being six years younger than the average position player, he continued his run of dominance, hitting .322/.425/.444 with 13 strikeouts and 16 walks over his first 23 games. His transition to the outfield ramped up at the level as well, with nearly all of his starts coming in center field before a brief, two-game exposure to right. This stint in Pawtucket would be short-lived, and he received his first call to the big leagues on July 28, making his major league debut a day later. The promotion made Betts ineligible to play in the 2014 Futures Game, and over his first 10 games with the Red Sox, he hit just .235/.278/.382. On July 19th, he was optioned back to Triple-A, but Betts again raked while back with Pawtucket, posting a .968 OPS while reaching base in nine of 11 games, then after a brief, six-day call-up, went back down and put up nearly identical numbers, including a .965 OPS, and reached base in 10 of 11 games.
Betts was recalled for the final time on August 18 and became a fixture in the lineup. He finally seemed to find comfort in the everyday role, and over his final 39 games, he hit .304/.391/.466 in 148 at-bats with seven doubles, two home runs, three stolen bases, 11 walks, and 19 strikeouts. On August 29, Betts hit his first career grand slam, and became the youngest Red Sox to do so since Tony Conigliaro in 1965. During that time, he played exclusively in the outfield until Pedroia was placed on the disabled list on September 1, which forced Betts back to second base to finish the season. Betts was again flooded with postseason awards, including the repeating as the SoxProspects.com Offensive Player of the Year and Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year, adding the 2014 SoxProspects.com Graduate of the Year. - Will Woodward/Chris Hatfield
Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: Perhaps the only question Mookie Betts needed to answer entering 2014 was whether 2013 was a fluke. And did Betts ever answer that question. By midseason, had he not been in the majors, he would have been a unanimous Top-20 prospect in the game. Betts's primary weapon is his athleticism, but he is not just a raw, unskilled athlete. Betts combines his raw tools with advanced skills, and that is what separates him from other young players in the game.
At the plate, Betts took off in 2013 when he eliminated a big leg kick to adjust his timing. He generates great batspeed from his compact swing, and shows an uncanny ability to barrel up pitches. These attributes allow him to hit for better power than his 5-foot-9, 155-pound frame should allow, although that is still probably in the range of 10-15 home runs per season. He also shows an advanced approach, rarely swinging at bad pitches and refusing to give in, waiting for his pitch. Combine those attributes with plus speed that allows him to impact a game on the bases as well, and Betts sure looks like a prototypical major league leadoff hitter, one who could fill that role in Boston immediately.
On defense, Betts showed great range, soft hands, and a solid-average arm at second base, looking much more comfortable on that side of the bag than he had at shortstop when he first entered the system. Were he to be traded to a team that could slot him into his best position, he would likely move back to the keystone, where he showed the ability to be a plus major league defender. Of course, with Pedroia in Boston, Betts's future is in the outfield (Sox officials have said this offseason that they do not see Betts as a potential third baseman). Although he understandably took some time to adjust to center, then right field in 2014, at first slow on reads and not taking great routes, he has shown aptitude and improving ability, as well as enough arm to not be a weak link in that regard. With his speed, Betts should be able to handle Fenway Park's cavernous right field.
Even despite his great run to end the 2014 season, we would be remiss to expect Betts to immediately put up all-star numbers, but that will not make him any less of a potential star. Stud prospects across the game struggled this season as major league pitching has improved to where many speculate that the jump to the bigs is as difficult as it has been in a long time. Should Betts regress somewhat to start 2015, fans should be patient and allow him to fight through his struggles. That said, given his meteoric rise through the system, going from Low A to the Majors in barely a season and a half, it also would not be surprising for Betts to hit the ground running as a catalyst atop the Red Sox lineup. - Chris Hatfield
Additional editorial support provided by Jonathan Singer.
Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor