An odd thing happened in the Portland Sea Dog’s game last Sunday. Top prospect Mookie Betts started in center field in that game, instead of his normal second base. With Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore struggling, this raises the question of whether the Red Sox are considering bringing Mookie to the majors.
Why would the Red Sox take such a risk with such a young prospect? Maybe because he would bring skills that they don’t currently possess on the major league roster. Mookie is a true leadoff hitter, with tremendous on base skills and excellent speed. His combined minor league OBP is over .400, with 79 stolen bases in 90 attempts. Sox leadoff hitters so far this year are hitting at a combined .227/.314/.340 clip. With Jacoby Ellsbury gone and Shane Victorino banged up, the Sox lack the speedy leadoff threat that Mookie provides.
Putting him in the leadoff spot would allow Dustin Pedroia to move back to his favored two position in the lineup, and shifts everyone down a spot. It doesn’t magically fix Mike Napoli, but might help shake things up. Heck, if they’re going to go all in with rookies, move Xander Bogaerts into the five position behind David Ortiz.
Is Mookie ready for the major leagues? Well, he’s certainly not being challenged in Double A. Currently for the season he’s hitting .371/.454/.589 with six home runs and 20 stolen bases. Double A to the majors is a huge jump, but players like Manny Machado show that it can be done. Machado might be the exception not the rule, but players with exceptional talent tend to succeed no matter the level.
Mookie has had almost 900 at bats in the minors through roughly two seasons. That’s more than Jackie Bradley Jr., but less than Xander Bogaerts. Bradley Jr. is the cautionary tale, as it appears he was promoted too early, and has never managed to find his footing in the majors. He also had several years of college experience, something Betts (who signed out of high school) doesn’t have.
The other major issue is lack of experience in center field. Mookie played the position in high school and has said he takes flies there in batting practice, but he’s only played it four times in actual games. Bradley Jr. certainly has a major defensive edge right now, and that’s the single biggest factor that may keep Mookie from the majors right away.
How many games would Mookie need to get acclimated to center field? The Reds gave Billy Hamilton almost a full season at Triple A last year after switching him from shortstop to center field. Of course, they had Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce in the outfield, and the Red Sox right now have no one near that caliber.
It’s still likely that the Red Sox will take the cautious route and bring Mookie along slowly. Still, the switch to center suggests that they at least want to prepare Mookie to play another position. This only makes sense since they have Dustin Pedroia signed for the next 50 years. With the Red Sox season seemingly spiraling out of control, it will be interesting to see how quickly Mookie Betts makes his major league debut.