January 23, 2015 at 1:30 PM
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The acquisition of Hanley Ramirez, the return of Shane Victorino, and the arrival of Rusney Castillo at the end of the 2014 season have made the Red Sox outfield a crowded place. With so many moving pieces, it remains to be seen just where Mookie Betts, fresh off a year in which he proved his ability to succeed at the major league level, fits.
“I just know [that] I want to be in the lineup, that’s my main focus right now,” Betts said last week while attending the Red Sox Rookie Development Program at Harvard University.
While it would be understandable if the 22-year-old wanted to know for certain where his place is in a still-crowded outfield picture that also includes Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, and Jackie Bradley Jr. in addition to the three aforementioned players, Betts is focusing his attention on the things he can control rather than worrying about the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
“I’m sure, for some people, it’s hard not to ask [where they’ll be playing], but I know, for me, I can’t focus on what [others are] doing, but I know they’re getting their work in and working hard, so I know I need to work hard and get ready for what’s to come,” Betts said. “I can’t control if I’m playing or not. I just know that I can come in ready.”
Of course Betts wants to be in the lineup on a regular basis, but he’s ready to play wherever and whenever he’s needed.
“[The Red Sox] have to take care of what they need to take care of, which is the Red Sox,” Betts said. “They’re going to put the winning nine out there. If I’m not a part of it, that’s fine, I’ll be ready on the bench to go, and if I am, that’s great as well.”
Betts’ 2014 campaign was a whirlwind that began in Double-A Portland, where he hit .355/.443/.551 in 54 games for the Sea Dogs. By the beginning of June, he’d been promoted to Triple-A. And before the end of the month, he was making his major league debut at Yankee Stadium. His rise is even more astonishing when considering that he ascended from Low A Greenville to the majors in less than two years' time.
The second baseman-turned-outfielder finished the year with an impressive .291/.368/.444 line in 213 major league plate appearances after a performance in Portland and Pawtucket that earned him Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year honors. This winter, Betts finally got to stop and take it all in.
“[In] the offseason, I got time to think about it, got time to sit back and reflect on it,” Betts said. “Now I know some things that I need to work on, and I feel like I’m putting those into action.”
One of the challenges facing Betts is battling the ominous “sophomore slump.” Now that major league pitchers have seen what Betts can do, they should be prepared to make changes to the way they attack him. But Betts is well aware and ready to adapt.
“There are going to be more adjustments, I know pitchers are going to pitch differently,” Betts said. “I’m sure I’ve changed some things that I need to go back to, and I feel like spring training, that’s what it’s for, to work on those things.”
Despite finishing the 2014 season on the major league roster and attending the Rookie Development Program this winter, Betts says this offseason feels no different than any of his previous.
“It’s been the same from my first spring training to this [offseason],” Betts said. “I feel like every year I just come home, rest a little, and get to work.”
Maybe the offseason seems the same as any other for Betts, but there are notable differences. For one, he’ll be attending major league spring training camp for the first time next month, vying for a spot on the 25-man roster. Betts belied his youthful inexperience, mentioning that he had not yet received an invitation to Spring Training—as a member of the 40-man roster, he does not need an invitation. But still, he need not worry: the Red Sox will be expecting him.
Photo credit: Mookie Betts by Kelly O'Connor
Katie Morrison is a staff writer for SoxProspects.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiemo61.