What’s to be expected out of Mookie Betts? If you’re an avid Baseball Prospectus-er, like I am, you have probably seen their projections for Betts and the rest of the Boston Red Sox in 2015. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, PECOTA has Betts projected to slash .285/.358/.415 in 2015, across just shy of 300 plate appearances in his age-22 season. I think almost everyone on my twitter feed thinks that’s a pretty bullish projection for a kid with 213 major league PAs under his belt.
I, however, think we need to reign it in a little bit when it comes to considering Betts’ future impact. But before I do that, I just want to get the disclaimer out that I am not a Betts hater, I think he’s an absolute stud and will be for a long time, I just don’t know that 2015 is the time to push our luck.
Let’s start out with Boston’s crowded outfield: the Red Sox have no need for Betts to begin 2015 with the major league club. Ben Cherington and Co. need to devise a way to pare the cluster of Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Rusney Castillo, Hanley Ramirez, Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. down from seven to four, or arguably five, depending on the fifth. Of those guys, I can guarantee you that Nava and Ramirez are already penciled onto the Opening Day roster, Nava for his ability to bat left-handed and Ramirez for his ability to bat, full stop. Now, Castillo’s recent injury muddles this picture a little bit but I think he’s probably the starting center fielder for Boston come Opening Day. If his injury is either serious, or fake enough that they put him on the disabled list, I think Betts probably starts in center, but that’s a question for another day. So that’s three spots accounted for, and I think the last two go to Victorino and Craig, provided they’re both with the club come Opening Day.
Boston has to get Shanf and Allen Craig enough at-bats to prove they could help another club enough to be worth trading future value for. Not an easy prospect with Betts tearing the cover off every baseball he sees. Victorino is also apparently going back to switch hitting, meaning the Sox get another left handed hitter if they keep Shane around. So, I think that’s probably the starting outfield set, provided an injury doesn’t mess something up, which is probably likely.
Logistics aside, I think there’s another prominent reason to keep Betts down for at least a couple of month. Everybody points to his stellar few months with the club in 2014, but hark back to the baseball season of yester-year when the Red Sox won it all with an equally impressive rookie performance. Of course I’m talking about Xander Bogaerts, Boston’s wunderkind who lit the world on fire as the consensus number 2 prospect in all of baseball, showed the poise of a seasoned veteran on the sport’s biggest stage and promptly imploded in his first full season in the Show. I know Bogaerts picked things up in the second half of last year and what not, but consider too Jackie Bradley Jr’s similar struggles upon being summoned to the big stage.
I’m not saying Betts will flame out, but there’s is definitely reason to be cautious with Boston’s newest phenom. Also, considering that he has never played a full season either at Triple-A or in the outfield, hardly the worst thing for his development would be to spend April and May abusing inferior competition and adjusting to playing a ‘new’ position while Boston brass waits for an inevitable injury.
I also want to be cautious regarding over-projecting the 22-year-old. I saw yesterday a projection which estimated Betts scoring 100 or more runs in 2015, to which I chuckled heartily. Although, it appears I’m in the minority in thinking that may be a little overzealous, so I decided to dig a little deeper. In an ‘era’ when offense is universally down, seven players scored 100 runs in 2014 and of those seven, not one hit fewer than 15 home runs. In fact, a player has only scored 100 runs with 15 or fewer round-trippers five times in the last five seasons. Mookie Betts of course is phenomenal table setter, with potentially plus speed and a plus hit tool, not to mention an outrageously good eye. That said, Betts possesses fringe-average power, and hit only 26 home runs in four minor league seasons. To quote a colleague though, Betts is “a stud and the lineup is glorious.” Well, yes, that’s true, but take a quick look at the guys who have scored 100 runs in the last five seasons, most, if not all of them have been in the MVP conversation, lofty expectations for a kid playing his first full MLB season.
I don’t think Betts will be bad, but I think ‘we’ need to slow our collective roll when we consider his impact on the 2015 ball club. It’s probably overambitious to project Betts to win the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year without a clear path to playing time. But give it a year or two, and two of those three awards probably aren’t out of the question.