Mookie Betts Taking More Aggressive Approach at the Plate

Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts has easily been the biggest story of Spring Training for the Boston Red Sox, in large part due to his more aggressive approach at the plate as of late.

In 14 Spring Training games thus far, Betts is hitting .452/.477/.857, good for an astounding 1.334 OPS. The 22-year old infielder-turned-outfielder has collected seven doubles, two triples, two home runs and five runs batted in.Mookie Betts

What number stands out the most, however, is only two base on balls.

“[Major league] pitchers are just around the zone more. I feel like you have to swing a little more. You can’t go up there taking,” Betts shared with Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. “I kind of learned last year that you can’t go up there taking. You’ve got to be ready to swing it. That’s how [Derek] Jeter got 3,000 hits. He wasn’t up there taking.”

“That’s kind of why my approach is a little more aggressive than it used to be, which is all right. I feel like it works both ways — it cuts down on strikeouts and it may cut down on walks, but that’s OK. I’ll take [walks] when they come, like today.”

The new offensive approach seems to be working brilliantly for Betts, who at one point this spring had more extra base hits than any player in the Grapefruit League.

“I think [the more aggressive approach] just kind of just developed over last year, especially against [major league] pitchers,” Betts said. “They’re kind of in the zone with everything. I feel like if you go up there taking, you’ll be 0-2 in the blink of an eye.”

“It’s not something that I think about. It’s just something that’s naturally been an adjustment, the same way I always say – I feel like I just make natural adjustments.”

The ability to make those adjustments on the fly should pay huge dividends for Betts, as he prepares for his first full season in the majors. In 52 games in 2014, Betts hit .291/.368/.444 with five home runs, 18 runs batted in, seven stolen bases and 21 walks.

Boston Red Sox Outfield Surplus

red sox outfield 2014With the recent addition of Rusney Castillo, that gives the  Red Sox eight legitimate candidates to compete for outfield jobs in the spring of 2015. Other than Castillo, the Sox have Yoenis Cespedes, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Brock Holt, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava. I didn’t even include minor league prospects such as Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan in that mix.

To be realistic, the Sox will probably only carry four outfielders. Advantages to carrying Brock Holt is that he can play anywhere on the diamond except pitcher or catcher and Allen Craig who can also play first base. Some folks will need to go in order for the numbers to work. Rusney Castillo will be given every shot to win the center field job. You can probably lock in Yoenis Cespedes in left field,unless another major trade happens, and possibly Shane Victorino if he is healthy. Victorino went on record as saying he is planning on being the right fielder next year. That leaves room for one back up among the others.

If Victorino isn’t healthy, Jackie Bradley Jr. would then move into that spot as the Sox have said they like employing two center fielders in the outfield. Mookie Betts would likely start the year at AAA Pawtucket as would Bradley Jr. if Victorino is healthy and can regain his productivity. You would think that Allen Craig came here to start and play everyday and not just be a fourth outfielder. Another scenario could be moving him to first base and possibly trading Mike Napoli.

A case could also be made to keep Daniel Nava as he is the only left-handed bat among that group. I expect him to get traded though as early as now or September to a contender  that could use him as a push into the playoffs. He is playoff tested, after last season, and could draw interest from teams. The last guy in this equation is Brock Holt. He has done everything the Sox could ask for this season and then some.

Brock Holt has really bailed the Sox out with providing a legitimate lead off hitter to fill the void left by Jacoby Ellsbury. That was a spot that Grady Sizemore couldn’t handle nor could Jackie Bradley Jr. He is also a nice guy who plays hard and is a sort of throwback on all of the positions he could play. If not in the Red Sox outfield, he could be the back up utility infielder.

It should be an interesting final month of the year to keep an eye on how all these guys will fit in to the Red Sox outfield for the remainder of the season and in 2015.

A Catch Reminds Us of the Great Fred Lynn

fred lynn

Fred Lynn (L) and Jim Rice (R) Courtesty of Fenwaypark100.com

Remember Fred Lynn? Or at least have you seen footage of him play center field like a wild man, bouncing off the wall with the full brunt of his body to catch a ball? Surely I did as I watched Jackie Bradley Jr. make that incredible catch on Opening Day against the Yankees. The catch was nearly identical to the one Lynn made in the short clip below:

Lynn says the hardest part about a catch like that is not grabbing it, but keeping it in the glove. Lynn ended his first season, 1975, earning two honors, the Rookie of the Year award and MVP in the American League.  Bradley Jr. and Lynn are both graduates of the University of South Carolina and are outfielders, preferring the center field position.

 

fred lynn

Courtesy of garnetandblacktraditions.com

After yesterday’s start, the question remains whether Bradley Jr. will continue to follow in Lynn’s footsteps. Will he score Rookie of the Year honors too? Will he be an MVP? I do not know. I do know that watching that catch over and over last night, after a much too long day, gave me great hope; a hope that only baseball and spring provide.

It also made me smile and think of my father, as Lynn was one of his favorite players during that 1975 season. I hope the Red Sox do better than the projected 80 plus wins some sources reportedly hope for, and earn 95 as they did in 1975. I hope we reach the ALCS as they did that year, too. Though a sweep and a World Series berth, may be asking too much of the baseball Gods.

For right now, for this moment, we caught a glimpse of hope in our proverbial baseball gloves. Let’s hold on to it as the season unfolds.

Platoon Players on Red Sox Roster

platoon players

Courtesy of ttp2.dslyecsi.com

“Platoon, isn’t that a movie, or has something to do with military structure?” I asked myself. I thought I knew most everything there is to know about baseball, but then I took this job. I learn something new every single day. People tell me that no one loves to learn more than I do, so I suppose I am living my mission.

Platooning, or platoon players, is the latest discovery I made.  The use of the term platoon in baseball, as defined at baseball-reference.com, is “when two players share a position.” This can occur both offensively and defensively. For instance, one player may be strong against left-handed pitchers and another against right-handed pitchers.  Jonny Gomes is an example of a platoon player for the Red Sox. Gomes makes lots of money in this role, a whopping $10 million to be exact, because statistics show he has a strong bat against left-handed pitchers. Gomes enjoyed a consistent on base percentage this Spring Training with an average of .316. Defensively, he can play both left and right field and switch off with, let’s say, Daniel Nava, or Shane Victorino. Offensively, there are plenty of players on the roster that can complement him against right-handed pitchers. Long story, short, we pay him lots of money because of his versatility. We hope it pays off. As New England fans, we hope for a lot of things like for it to stop snowing at the end of March.

platoon players

Courtesy of boston.com

In most of my posts, I emphasize the need for this team to play as one cohesive unit, and not individuals who happen to be wearing the same shirts. This platooning idea speaks directly to the team philosophy. Plus, it provides depth in key positions on the field and in the batter’s box. Gomes is one good example, and there are others on the team like Mike Napoli, who could play first base, catch, or DH.

Now, my earlier post on the depth chart starts to make more sense to me. I get why certain players are mentioned in more than one position.

As one famous dude once said, “Eureka!”

Jackie Bradley Jr. a Wunderkind to Watch

jackie bradley jr.

Courtesy of nationalsamrace.com

Jackie Bradley Jr. seems to be some wunderkind. Some thought he would start the regular season in AAA, now based on performance it may be more prudent to place him in the majors. This would be a relatively unusual move for the Red Sox, but his stats and the chatter that surround him seem to be glowingly positive. A real student of the game and perhaps, if, we, at the Yawkey Way Report may be so bold, the next Johnny Damon. Or even the next Jacoby Ellsbury perhaps, due to BradleyJr.’s position in the outfield and offensive production. But, then what happens to Ellsbury?

The throngs of women who want to date him will be upset to see Jacoby Ellsbury be brushed aside. The men who want to be him recognize that we still need his bat. Moneyballers like his on-base percentage. (Even though Bradley Jr.’s stats are ever so slightly better, according to a comparison of their minor league performance, Bradley Jr.’s on base percentage is .432 versus Ellsbury’s .389) Ellsbury’s real gift is his base stealing prowess. This is something the Sox need to make his on base percentage fruitful, turning them into runs.  Defensively, Jacoby knows the idiosyncrasies of Fenway’s tricky outfield. Could his speed and agility help him if John Farrell moves him to right field? Doubtful. Everyone likes Ellsbury for center field. Left field may be the an option for Bradley Jr. due to his versatility in the outfield. Some doubt the defensive ability and agility of Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, and Daniel Nava in left field. WEEI’s Alex Speier applauds Bradley Jr.’s acumen in the outfield, and thus makes us wonder whether a placement at left would be worth a shot.

Courtesy of nesn.com

Courtesy of nesn.com

 

“For him, it is as if the outfield grass is a sacred expanse that requires defense against any encroaching baseballs.” 

How poetic.

One wonders if Farrell considers this, or whether he will take some time with Bradley Jr. and further cultivate him in Pawtucket. The well-designed, JetBlue Park will certainly help in that decision making process as Spring Training continues.