Mookie Betts got to live out a childhood dream this weekend at Wrigley Field. He started and played a Major League game at shortstop, the position he grew up playing and always envisioned controlling at this level.
Remember, Betts was drafted as an infielder but was moved to right field because he was blocked by Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts during his time in Boston. Betts has turned himself into a Gold Glove right fielder, making it difficult to take him out of that spot.
But with the Dodgers desperately needing shortstop help, they asked Betts if he wanted to play there. Betts, who is incredibly gifted in the outfield, has always wanted to return to the infield and immediately said he would do it.
Letting Betts play shortstop, even if it’s just occasionally, is a big move by the Dodgers. But does it make sense? For now, it absolutely does. Long term? That’s debatable, and it just depends on how things shape up.
“It looked right,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts of Betts playing shortstop. “I thought he looked comfortable, confident. Made the plays that he needed to make. Just gave other guys an opportunity to get in there, which I liked and kind of the genesis of it. The more you see him, the more he amazes you. Special athlete.”
There are a couple reasons the Dodgers landed on the idea of playing Betts at shortstop. The first one is injuries. Gavin Lux was lost for the season during Spring Training, Miguel Rojas is currently on the 10-day injured list with a hamstring issue and Chris Taylor has been banged up.
Another reason, and perhaps the biggest one, is the fact that the Dodgers haven’t gotten much production out of Rojas and Taylor. Rojas is a solid defender, but his inefficiencies at the plate have hurt the offense in games in which he has started. Taylor, on the other hand, has the potential to run into some home runs, but his strikeout rate continues to be alarming.
By moving Betts, the Dodgers can start James Outman, Jason Heyward and David Peralta with more frequency against left-handed pitching. That’s what they did on Sunday against Marcus Stroman, and the offense responded with one of its best showings of the season. The Dodgers face three right-handed pitchers in the series against the Pirates.
“I told them I just want to win, so I’ll play wherever,” Betts said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life. When I got to the big leagues is when I went to right field and didn’t get to play anywhere else. [Shortstop] is nothing new for me.”
While playing Betts at shortstop against right-handed pitching makes sense in the short-term, it’ll be interesting to see what the Dodgers do the rest of the season. Rojas will be activated at some point, and they’ll find some playing time for him because his glove provides value at the position. Betts’ glove is also almost too valuable to lose in right field, where he has won six Gold Glove Awards, including one last season. Whatever the Dodgers decide, they now know they have a pretty decent third-string shortstop in Betts.