He anticipates the question before it is asked. But he doesn't know the answer.
Mookie Betts is amidst a mind-blowing run in Double-A Portland. He went 1-for-2 with a double, three walks and two steals on Monday for the Sea Dogs, improving his average to .407 with a .459 OBP, .651 slugging mark, 14 extra-base hits, 10 walks, eight strikeouts and 10 steals (in 11 attempts) over 20 games. He's reached base in 50 straight regular season games dating to last year in High-A Salem.
It is a breathtaking run that adds to a breathtaking 12 months. Betts, who was hitting just .145 (though with a .340 OBP) last May 2, is now 124 games into a run that has seen him ascend to status as one of the top prospects in the game. Starting last May 5, in 124 minor league games, he's hitting .358 with a .435 OBP, .572 slugging mark, 16 homers, 44 steals (in 48 attempts), 68 walks, 53 strikeouts and 65 extra-base hits across three levels.
Betts has dazzled now in four different leagues -- the Single-A South Atlantic League, the High-A Carolina League, the Arizona Fall League and now in the Eastern League -- in that span. He is moving with startling speed through the Sox system.
And yet ...
"Honestly, I still feel like I have a while to go [before reaching the big leagues]. I've got [Dustin] Pedroia in front of me," Betts said, in deference to the fact that he plays a position helmed by a player who is signed by the Red Sox through 2021. "I don't know what they're going to do as far as moving me around, but right now, I'm a second baseman. I focus on second base. I do feel like I have a while to go. If I do, that's fine. If I don't, I'm ready whenever they are."
Indeed, Betts is trying to ensure that he will be just that, with an understanding that if he does reach the big leagues with the Red Sox, the likelihood is that it will be as something other than a second baseman (barring an injury to Pedroia). And so, there are two things Betts does every day to advance his career.
One is get on base for the Sea Dogs during the game. The other comes before the game, and acknowledges the reality of his position in the Red Sox organization, a budding star who is playing behind a franchise icon.
"I make it a point, always in the third group [of batting practice], I go to center field," said Betts, who has played second base exclusively for most of the last three years after opening his career as a shortstop. "I pretty much take it like a game situation, take all the line drives, flyballs, anything, and sometimes I take some groundballs and throw them to the bag just to see what it's like out there."
He has a sense of that. Indeed, Betts has a sense of familiarity at two positions aside from second.
In high school, he played shortstop, center field and second base. He recalls being most comfortable while at Overton High School in Tennessee as a center fielder, though when the Sox took him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, they viewed him as being a potential big league shortstop.
Indeed, it was at short that Betts captured the attention of Red Sox area scout Danny Watkins with a play that set in motion the process that led the Sox to the slight (5-foot-9) middle-of-the-field athlete.
"Mookie goes back behind the bag, ranging to his left, gets to it well, and his only option at that point, he took the ball from his glove and flipped it behind his back to the second baseman to get the force out. I knew right then that, OK, this is a guy, let's start to dig a little deeper on what it is," said Watkins. "He was able to do so many things easily. There wasn't a lot of effort to what he was doing. His body just kind of flowed through the game. … That's intriguing to me when I see someone who can do that."
Watkins saw him as a shortstop, a player with the instincts, concentration, quickness and athleticism to have the range for the position, and with an arm that could project to be average for the position. Indeed, Betts opened his pro career at short, though throwing problems in the initial stages of his pro career (he committed six errors in a dozen games in Lowell) along with the arrival of 2012 first-rounder Deven Marrero led the Sox to introduce Betts to second base in that year (Betts' first as a pro), and the team didn't want to disrupt his development by shuttling him to both sides of the bag.
And when Betts made his meteoric rise as a hitter while also showing the ability to be an impact defender at second base last year, the Sox were not inclined to create any ripples that could take away from his emergence as an unexpected offensive force.
"We felt like the development and the refinement that was happening at second base -- which was a new position for him in Lowell -- the refinement and development of him at second base was our primary focus [in 2014]," said Sox farm director Ben Crockett. "He was performing really well offensively. We liked the place he was in mentally as he was continuing to learn second base in addition to where he was offensively."
Still, Betts' background at shortstop gives the team a sense that he could return to it if needed. Eventually, he could also be exposed to center or left. He seems blocked only if one views him narrowly through the position he currently plays, rather than the ones that he has the ability to play.
The idea of moving Betts isn't a round peg in a square hole. It's part of what Betts has done throughout his baseball playing life.
"I think Mookie could play anywhere," said Mike Morrison, Betts' high school coach. "If the Red Sox wanted him to go across the diamond to short and were willing to give him that opportunity and time, I don't think there's anything he can't do. He could play short, he could go to the outfield. We put him in center at times. You talk about a guy who could go and run the ball down, too ... He would play shallow and then challenge people to hit a ball over him. He'd make running catches over his shoulder. ... He could play left. He could play anywhere as far as I'm concerned. He's that kind of kid."
There are no immediate plans to have Betts start playing different positions in games. He takes live reads of balls off the bat on the left side of the infield in batting practice, periodically throws from there as much to keep his arm stretched out for the double play pivot at second base as with anything purposeful in mind, and he does spend time tracking balls off the bat in batting practice. He looks natural as he goes through those informal exercises, to the point that team officials can imagine him adapting to just about any spot on the field.
For now, most evaluators feel that the likeliest move for Betts would be to the outfield -- either center or left. With Daniel Nava now back in Triple-A and Jonny Gomes as well as Grady Sizemore eligible for free agency after this year, left field is unsettled for the Red Sox after 2014. Shane Victorino is eligible for free agency after 2015, and so the Sox could contemplate an alignment down the road (or in the shorter-term if needed, if injuries or performance struggles occur to the current group of outfielders) of Betts in center and Victorino or Jackie Bradley Jr. in right.
But those notions are getting a bit ahead of Betts' current circumstance. If the 21-year-old continues to rocket through the Red Sox system at this pace, it likely will be in Triple-A Pawtucket -- perhaps later this year -- that he will start gaining exposure to positions other than second base in games, at a time when he can work with one coaching staff on making any necessary transitions, with the relevant coordinator or coordinators (infield instructor Andy Fox or outfield instructor George Lombard, depending on the Sox' needs) linking up with Pawtucket as needed to round out Betts' education at a different spot.
That's how the Sox proceeded with Xander Bogaerts a year ago: He took some grounders at third base in Portland, but it wasn't until he arrived in Pawtucket -- after he'd shown that he needed to be challenged by a higher level of pitching -- that he began his more formal training at the position where he'd eventually prove a pivotal postseason performer.
Betts has the ability to adapt. At this point, those conversations are coming -- most likely following a promotion at some point this year to Pawtucket, potentially (if Betts' offense cools and he spends the full year in Double-A) in Portland or after the season in either the Arizona Fall League or a winter league.
But the Sox aren't asking Betts to do anything but play second base in games just yet.
"He could do different things given the athleticism and the fact that he's played in the middle of the diamond, the past experiences," said Crockett. "At this point, he'll continue to move around a little bit in [batting practice] like a lot of our guys do but focus primarily on second base."
Still, while Betts has been portrayed as a redundancy given the presence of Pedroia, the Sox view him as anything but. He is the one player in the organization with the potential to emerge as a standout, multi-dimensional force while having the athleticism and skill set to address holes at different spots on the diamond.
At a time when the Sox are preparing to play the Rays, they can look into the other dugout at a player like Ben Zobrist -- someone whose impact has been magnified by his ability to play seven positions in the big leagues (all four infield spots and all three outfield positions) and see a hint of the kind of impact Betts could one day make.
A player with only one path to the big leagues -- particularly at second base -- can be blocked in the Red Sox system. An elite prospect with several avenues in the infield and outfield almost surely can find his way to the big leagues almost as soon as he shows that he's ready; there will always be a need somewhere at the major league level for such a player.
As such, Betts has put himself in a position, based on his amazing emergence over the last year, where several team officials described him as being all but untouchable. The potential for him to make an impact for the Sox, for a long time, is too great. That he will do so at a position other than the one Pedroia plays is no deterrent.
"With the dwindling potential for free agents, you can't give up someone who you think is a potential All-Star player," said one evaluator. "If he keeps hitting this way through the deadline and he's up in Triple-A, there's no way you're talking about trading him. You're going to be talking about him coming up to Boston."