According to mlb.com, Mookie Betts is close to a sure thing to be the Opening Day starting center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. His closest competition was last year’s Cuban import hype-guy, Rusney Castillo. However, Castillo is rehabbing from an oblique injury (I always thought this type of injury sounded lame, until I had one myself. Have fun breathing heavily!). In the absence of that clear competition, Betts has been raking all spring, so far. In nine Grapefruit League contests, Betts is hitting .448 with five doubles, two triples and an eye-popping 1.207 OPS. Yes, we all know the old adage that “Spring Training stats don’t mean diddly-squat” (not sure that’s the actual proverb, but you get the idea), but it sure does help to forecast Betts as a successful, prototypical leadoff hitter for a Sox team that has lacked in that department since the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury.
It is doubtful that Betts, the converted second baseman, will match Ellsbury’s top tier speed skillset, but his ZiPS projections do foresee a range of about 30 stolen bases (when taking into account STEAMER projections, as well). Red Sox fans, myself included, will be happy to have a guy at the top of the order who’s going to get on base (.368 OBP in a small Major League sample size, but his projections stick to that range) and be a base-stealing threat who can get into the mind of opposing pitchers. If he can maintain, and hopefully improve upon, a 70% stolen base success rate, he will stick in the frontal cortex of the opposing pitcher when he gets on base. So, with that taken into account, it stands to reason that Betts can not only get on base, but minimize double-play opportunities for the opposition and create better pitch opportunities for the big bats following him in the order, such as old man ‘Big Papi’ David Ortiz (who is seemingly defying the traditional late-30s career swoon for a one-dimensional slugger). Depending on his success level, day-to-day, during the grind of a full Major League season, Betts could also alleviate some of the pressure on Dustin Pedroia to create from the top of the order.
And, at 5’9″, he might even make Pedroia look less like the mascot for Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.