In recent months, we’ve heard a lot about the so-called contest between Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo to be the Red Sox’ starting center fielder. I appreciate the talent of both players, and I respect the heavy stake placed in Castillo by the Boston front office. But, quite frankly, I don’t see a fair comparison between these guys. In my mind, Betts is clearly the better player at present and, moving forward, has a much brighter future. Accordingly, as the Red Sox embrace youth, Mookie Betts should be the poster boy, standing front and center. Ultimately, he should be untouchable.
I love Betts’ energy and agility. Like all great ballplayers, he is always so alert and alive on the field, proactively pushing the envelope and making things happen. Betts has the kind of mercurial instinct and youthful exuberance that sets the tone on a ballclub, providing it with life and animation. He’s just a fun guy to have around.
At the plate, Betts reminds me of a young Dustin Pedroia; both players compensating for a lack of height and bulk by mastering a lyrical swing that emits one rasping line drive after another, hammering ball after ball into the gaps and off the walls. Betts has such good timing, and the ball jumps so aggressively off his bat, that he’s become something of an extra-base hit machine, firing doubles and triples into the outfield and igniting panic among opposing teams.
This spring, Mookie has been fantastic, showing real growth and development before our eyes. Every day, he becomes more accustomed to the leadoff spot, showing an increased appreciation for his role as an on-base instigator, whilst his play in center field continues to improve handsomely. Through eight Grapefruit League games, Betts has 12 hits, including 4 doubles and 2 triples, good for a .462 average and a startling 1.231 OPS. Admittedly, this is a very small sample size, but the guy just has a tremendous feel for the game. He’s ready to take the Major Leagues by storm.
Of course, you’d like to see Betts draw a few more walks, and use his game-altering speed to more devastating effect on the bases, but those facets of his game will develop naturally with experience. Mookie has a precocious array of skills and, throughout his professional career, they have been honed with an abundance of game time. The more Betts plays, the better he becomes, which is why the Sox must give him the starting job he has earned, and allow him to continue building from his impressive opening salvo last year.
Aged 22 and cost-controlled until 2021, Mookie Betts is, in my opinion, the definitive nucleus around which this new-age Red Sox team should be built. In the next few years, he will grow into a brilliantly dynamic Major League player, before maturing into a perennial All-Star. Accordingly, for Boston, it makes zero sense to have him play the next season or so in Pawtucket; nor to trade him away and watch as he becomes an elite performer someplace else. Mookie Betts is the present and the future. He, surely, is untouchable.