Back in the early days of Minor League Ball, I used to write "Crystal Ball" articles projecting out the career of a young player. They were NOT based on any sort of complex algorithm or computerized projection system and they weren't intended to be taken terribly seriously, although efforts were made to make them seem fairly realistic.
Alas, people did take them seriously and eventually I stopped writing them because it seemed like I couldn't really explain what they were supposed to be: something fun, something that might happen, but not something analytical enough to put the full weight of the word "projection" behind them.
Yesterday a reader asked me for an opinion regarding Boston Red Sox sophomore outfielder Mookie Betts and what can be expected for his peak seasons. I promised an answer, so here it is in the form of an Unsubstantiated Prediction, which we will make a new feature replacing the old crystal balls.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with the current configuration of Mookie Betts. He has now played 138 games in the major leagues between this year and last, hitting .282/.342/.457, OPS+ 121, wRC+ 120, with 34 doubles,15 homers, 20 steals, and a 48/75 BB/K. He's at 4.9 fWAR. He had some rough moments this spring and was hitting just .237/.298/.368 on June 10th, but has heated up since then. As Matthew Kory at Fangraphs pointed out a few days ago, Betts simply does a lot of things very well.
Overall, Betts' production to this point in his career is very much in line with what you would expect given his minor league track record. If he simply holds steady, stays healthy, and treads water with his current skill set, he'll be an above-average player for a long time.
But can he do better than that?
Sure. My Unsubstantiated Prediction is that Mookie Betts will spend the next two years playing about like he has played to this point, with some ups and downs but overall producing above-average metrics in several different categories.
Then, at age 25 in 2018, he'll go on a total tear, hitting .344/.405/.543, steal 40 bases in 42 attempts, win a Gold Glove for outfield defense, and beat out Mike Trout for MVP (Trout will actually out-WAR Betts but by that point everyone will be sick of Trout winning every year).
Betts will then fall back at age 26/27 to his previous standards of above-average but not exceptional production. Then at age 28 in 2021 he'll go on another tear, hit .339/.410/.520 (which will win him a batting title in a pitching-dominated year). He will then sign a eight-year free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves, have a bad year (for him) in 2022, then recover to resume his old standards of production through the age of 33 at which point he will decline sharply due to a series of injuries.
So there you have it. His peak seasons will be 2018 at age 25 and 2021 at age 28. He will hit .287/.350/.459 in his career, he'll win three Gold Gloves, two batting titles, and an MVP.
I have no evidence for this, of course. It is an Unsubstantiated Prediction. Don't quote me on it.
Unless it comes true, of course.