Pipeline Perspectives: Betts off to Minors' best start
Red Sox second-base prospect dominating Double-A Eastern League in early going
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Sometimes, I can't believe my good fortune.
When we decided to answer the question, "Which prospect has gotten off to the best start in 2014?" I assumed that Jim Callis would automatically pick Mookie Betts. Not only is he a very good choice, but Jim did Boston's Top 20 Prospects list, and I have it on good authority that he has a Mookie Betts shrine in his office.
So imagine my surprise when Jim opted to go with Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson. Don't get me wrong, Pederson is having a fine season so far, but I'm still pinching myself that Jim left me with clearly the best answer to this week's question. So Mookie, don't feel shunned. I've got your back.
Honestly, it's an easy case to make. Entering play on Wednesday, Betts leads all of Minor League Baseball with a .407 average. He has yet to dip below .400 at any point so far in his Double-A Eastern League season. As a leadoff hitter, Betts is the best run scorer in the Minors, with 35. He's second in the Minors in hits (48), and we're not just talking a slap singles hitter. Betts is seventh in the Minors in OPS with his 1.073 mark.
They might as well rename the Eastern League leaderboard after the Red Sox second-base prospect, currently ranked No. 58 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 list and No. 5 in the very deep Red Sox organization. Betts tops the circuit in average, hits, total bases, on-base percentage, OPS and, yes, stolen bases (15). In 118 at-bats, he has struck out a total of nine times. Nine! That's a strikeout rate of 6.9 percent. Pederson, on the other hand, is striking out at a 24.6-percent rate. Just saying.
I really don't need to find fault in Pederson. He's having a fantastic year in Triple-A, albeit in the hitting haven that is Albuquerque. Betts has a slightly higher slugging percentage, but that's not so relevant, right? Really, I can make my case by just looking more closely at how ridiculous Betts has been over the first month-plus of the season.
Betts, who only spent 51 games in the Class A Advanced Carolina League in the second half of last season, is making the leap most say is the most difficult developmentally -- A to Double-A -- look incredibly easy.
Betts hit the ground running with a 4-for-4 game that included a home run on Opening Day. He made an out on day two, but he collected three more hits, including two doubles. He hasn't slowed down much since, piling up 16 multihit games (out of 27). He's only gone hitless twice all year and has reached base at least once in every game he's played.
Want more? After getting hits in his first four games, Betts went without one on April 8, but he walked twice. He then reeled off a 17-game hitting streak before finally being held without a hit (he walked and stole base in that game) on May 2. That just motivated Betts to start over, banging out seven hits in 17 at-bats over four games.
The biggest question facing Betts in the long term, of course, is where he's going to play when he's deemed ready for Boston. The middle infield seems a bit blocked by Dustin Pedroia and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, but if Betts keeps performing like he has, he's going to force the Red Sox to make a decision about him sooner than anyone anticipated.