A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me what I thought about Boston Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts and his fast start at Double-A Portland. I replied that I liked him a lot as a prospect but that I would give a more updated view after we saw a few more weeks of action from him.
Well, it is time for that now.
First, this is what I wrote about Betts in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book:
Betts was a fifth round pick in 2011, out of high school in Brentwood, Tennessee. Virtually unknown a year ago, he is now one of the top second base prospects in baseball. He’s a fine athlete with good speed, and he added power to the mixture last year, knocking 15 homers and 36 doubles. He’s always controlled the strike zone well, but some mechanical adjustments and simple physical maturity boosted his power production. 81 walks against just 57 strikeouts is an unusually impressive ratio, testifying to his feel for hitting. He also uses his speed extremely well on the bases. Somewhat error-prone at this point, he has good range and enough arm strength to perhaps switch to another position, likely necessary given Boston’s long- term commitment to Dustin Pedroia at second base. He could also be used as trade bait. Logical comp: Ray Durham, who was also a fifth round pick of similar size and skill. Strong Grade B.
Now, as you can see, that's a positive comment. But "strong Grade B" is a clear underestimate at this point.
Betts has taken the undoubted skills he showed in '13 and ramped everything up a notch: he's hitting .399/.462/.601 through 33 games for Double-A Portland, with 18 walks and just 12 strikeouts in 138 at-bats. He's stolen 17 bases in 20 attempts. He's hitting .500/.577/.750 against left-handed pitching. His home/road splits are virtually even, so this isn't some sort of friendly home park statistical artifact.
What about the defense? Well, his athleticism has never been questioned and his error rate is a bit lower this year, a matter of cleaner footwork and simply more experience. I have no concerns about the glove: he'll be just fine at second base, perhaps even excellent, although he is still blocked by Pedroia as noted in the pre-season comment. He's certainly athletic enough to learn the outfield and I suspect that is where he will end up if he stays in Boston.
Betts will cool off at some point and isn't going to hit .399 all year, but his sabermetrics are stellar and he's a fine athlete who packs a lot of speed and wiry strength into his 5-9 frame. Grade-wise he's at least a B+ right now and is heading into A-territory.
Bottom line: Betts has the skills, he's got the tools, and I think he's for real.