Mookie Betts (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)
Feats of Mookie: Being Mookie Betts.
The outrageous emergence of Betts from obscurity to elite prospect status is reaching runaway train status. It’s too early in 2014 to draw many conclusions, but it’s also virtually impossible to ignore what he’s doing. With his 2-for-4 performance on Saturday for Double-A Portland that included a double, a sac fly and his third steal of the season, he now has a laughable line of .469/.514/.750.
“Mookie Betts . . . isn’t human,” concluded Salem broadcaster Evan Lepler.
Betts reached base in his last 30 games of 2013 with High-A Salem, posting a .418/.496/.655 line with 15 extra-base hits, 16 walks and nine strikeouts during that time, and he’s reached base in his first eight games of this season (getting on base multiple times in seven of his first eight contests). So, he now has a streak dating to last year of 38 straight games reaching base, during which time he has a line of .430/.500/.676 with 21 extra-base hits, 20 walks, 12 strikeouts and 15 steals in 18 attempts.
Again: Over roughly a quarter of a season in which he’s been one of the youngest players in two leagues, he’s hitting .430 with a .500 OBP and .676 slugging mark.
Betts was young for the level (20) last year in Salem when he started his surge following his mid-year promotion, and he’s young for the level (21, the sixth youngest position player in the Eastern League) now. He dominated in Single-A and High-A last year; he stood out in the Arizona Fall League as a player with impact tools; and now, he’s continuing his meteoric rise into Double-A, with the Eastern League representing the fourth venue in the span of 12 months (his 2013 campaign didn’t become truly captivating until a May explosion in Greenville) in which he’s dominated.
The diminutive Betts — he’s listed at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds — has now been turning heads through this time by being the embodiment of the Sox’ selective-aggressive philosophy, doing a tremendous job with his plate discipline while unloading on the baseball in a fashion that belies his slight frame. How?
“He’s just a very good athlete who has very good hand-eye coordination. For some reason, he has the gift of being able to see the baseball early out of the pitcher’s hand,” said Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator Tim Hyers. “He just seems like he has really good balance at the plate, picks up the baseball really early and makes his decisions really quick. That’s part of the reason that I see him as a guy that’s going to have good plate discipline and probably a really good on-base percentage throughout his career.
“I don’t think [home runs] are ever going to be his main asset or biggest tool. I think he has sneaky power and if you make mistakes, he can put a hurt on the baseball. He can change the game. But I think he’s not going to live on the longball. His best strength is the middle of the field, hitting line drives. He’s going to hit a lot of doubles. He’s going to have some sneaky power where if they make mistakes, he can hit it out of the park.”
Throughout last year, it was difficult to make sense of Betts as a prospect, in part because his modest performance in 2012 with Lowell in his pro debut (.267/.352/.307 with nine extra-base hits in 71 games) was so difficult to reconcile with the way he was performing in Greenville. But as Betts continues to carry his breakthrough of 2013 forward into the upper levels, the uncertainty that loomed about his prospect status is quickly fading.
(To listen to more on Betts from both Lepler and Salem manager Carlos Febles, as part of a conversation about the significance of winning and losing for player development, click here to listen to the latest Minor Details podcast.)
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 LOSS AT BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS)
– Dan Butler launched his first homer of the year, extending his hitting streak to encompass all seven games he’s played this year. The 27-year-old has exactly one hit in each of his seven contests, with five of those going for extra bases, resulting in a .259/.286/.519 line. Butler is coming off a strong year in which he hit .262/.350/.479 with 14 homers and 33 extra-base hits in 84 games in Pawtucket.
– Garin Cecchini went 1-for-3, and now has hits in eight of nine games, but he also punched out twice and did not walk. He has gone five straight games without a walk, an uncharacteristic drought for him. Cecchini had just three streaks of five or more games in which he didn’t walk in 2013 (when he led all of minor league baseball in OBP), topping out with an eight-game stretch without a free pass from last July 19-25 in Portland. He also had streaks of five and seven games without a walk in High-A Salem prior to his mid-year promotion. Cecchini did swipe his first bag of the year.
– Christian Vazquez, serving as DH, went 1-for-3 with his fourth double of the year. Though he’s driving the ball, like Cecchini, he’s showing an uncharacteristic inability to work counts and draw walks, as he has yet to be walked a single time in his eight games to date.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 10-4 WIN VS. NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)
– Shortstop Deven Marrero went 1-for-4 with a walk and his fifth double in nine games this year. The 23-year-old is hitting .355/.394/.516. He also stole his second base in as many attempts this year, improving to 53-for-61 on stolen base attempts (87 percent) in his pro career. Between his excellent defense at short and strong baserunning, if he can post even solid batting averages and OBPs — an average in the .250-.260 range, an OBP in the low-.300s — he would project as at least a second division starting shortstop. If he can exceed such totals, perhaps with averages around .280 and OBPs in the .330-.350 range, even if only with doubles power, he could be a top 10 or 15 starting shortstop in the big leagues.
– Catcher Blake Swihart went 1-for-4 with a double, his first extra-base hit of the year against a right-handed pitcher. Swihart — a natural right-handed hitter who became a switch-hitter in high school — is 6-for-12 with a double, a triple and no strikeouts or walks against lefties this year; with Saturday’s double, he’s 3-for-15 with a walk, two strikeouts and a double against righties.
– First baseman/DH Stefan Welch remained hot, going 3-for-3 with a double and walk. The 25-year-old Australian is now hitting .409/.517/.545, and he’s 9-for-17 with four walks in his last five games.
– Center fielder Shannon Wilkerson went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles to extend his hitting streak to eight games. The 25-year-old is hitting .333/.333/.389.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-0 LOSS VS. MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)
– Left-hander Corey Littrell had his second straight strong outing to open the year. Though the 22-year-old took the loss, he worked six innings in which he permitted six hits (all singles), walked two and struck out seven. In his first two starts, the 2013 fifth-rounder has a 1.69 ERA with 15 strikeouts and five walks in 10 2/3 innings.
– Right-hander Kyle Martin tossed three innings of relief in which he allowed an unearned run on two hits (both singles) while punching out five and walking none. In three outings this year, Martin has 14 strikeouts without a walk in 8 1/3 innings.
– As Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times notes, Salem’s lineup was silenced for the second time in less than a week by a player who was once drafted by the Sox. Right-hander Sam Wolff, whom the Sox took out of junior college in the 47th round of the 2011 draft but who opted instead to enroll at the University of New Mexico, from which he was drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round in 2013, allowed just two singles in 6 1/3 shutout innings in which he walked and struck out three. In two starts against Salem, the 22-year-old has allowed one run on three hits in 11 1/3 innings with nine punchouts and four walks.
‘They’d only seen me like one time and I think it was more of a draft-and-follow type of thing,’ Wolff told McFarling of his contact with the Red Sox in college. ‘I had only talked to the scout a couple of times. But I was pretty set on school. I wanted to go to University of New Mexico at least for my junior year and kind of see what happened after that.’
Wolff went 4-0 with a 0.60 ERA, 44 strikeouts and nine walks between short-season ball and Single-A in his 30-inning pro debut last summer, and he’s now dominated in High-A in each of his first two starts of this year.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 4-1 WIN VS. KANNAPOLIS (WHITE SOX)
– Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz, a second-round pick by the Red Sox last year, notched his first professional win, tossing five shutout innings in which he allowed three hits (all singles) while walking three and striking out four. The walks were a career high and indeed matched the total number of free passes he’d issued in his prior 23 2/3 professional innings. Still, the outing represented a rebound from a rough first start of the year, in which the 20-year-old allowed five runs in four innings and didn’t strike out a batter.
– Manuel Margot continued to highlight his diverse skill set. One day after launching his third homer of the season, the 19-year-old went 1-for-4 with a pair of steals, swiping both second and third. He now has 53 career steals in 125 professional games.
– Second baseman Wendell Rijo went 1-for-2 with a double and walk. Rijo, one of six position players in the South Atlantic League in their age 18 season, is now hitting .292/.393/.375.
– Right-hander Jonathan Aro worked a perfect ninth for his first save. The 23-year-old has allowed one hits and three walks while striking out five in three scoreless innings.