Red Sox infield prospect Mookie Betts was a high school athlete with excellent ability in multiple sports. Betts played baseball, football and basketball, but he was also an extremely good bowler. In fact, the 21-year-old was good enough at bowling to compete at the collegiate level had he so chosen.
Betts, a middle infielder capable of playing shortstop as well as his current position of second base, thought he would be attending his home-state University of Tennessee. Betts had narrowed his selection to Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but he decided on Tennessee due to its outstanding fan support.
But in the end, Betts attended neither Vanderbilt nor Tennessee. Rather, he chose to sign a contract with the Boston Red Sox after being selected out of John Overton High School in Nashville, Tenn., in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
The right-handed-hitting Betts stands at 5-foot-9, weighs 156 pounds and is ranked Boston's No. 16 prospect. When I scouted Betts in the Arizona Fall League, it was obvious he is an athlete. His best tool may be his speed. Betts has the ability to steal bases and take an extra base on even the best outfield arms.
Betts' speed and ability to make contact helps project him as an efficient and effective top-of-the-order hitter. He has the ability to see lots of pitches, realizing that a walk is as good as a base hit. In fact, Betts has walked 113 times the past two seasons.
Betts has struck out only 87 times in 847 plate appearances. He has a .298 batting average in the 199 games he has played to date, not counting the Arizona Fall League. Betts' statistics and his progress are very impressive.
Betts has surprising power for his size. This past season, for example, he hit 15 home runs playing for Class A Greenville (eight) and Class A Advanced Salem (seven). Betts also smoked 36 doubles and four triples. His .417 combined on-base percentage helped earn him a trip to Arizona to play for Surprise in the Fall League.
Betts made the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars team, starting at second base for the West Division club.
Betts has the ability to be patient at the plate. He knows the strike zone and doesn't get himself out by deviating from his planned approach. Betts offers only at pitches he feels confident he can handle.
Betts has a very short, compact and level swing that allows him to drive the ball to the gaps. He uses the entire field and doesn't get carried away with extending the energy or length of his swing to hit the ball out of the park. In short, Betts knows his limitations. He knows his role is to be a table setter, advance on the bases and score runs. At times, Betts will advance by stealing second.
Using selectivity at the plate, Betts should be able to continue to hit for the type of average he has already shown in his career. In the Arizona Fall League, however, Betts hit only .271. He had 16 hits, including three doubles and a home run. Betts stole eight bases and was caught stealing twice. In 16 games, he made only one error at second base.
Defensively, scouts I spoke with in Arizona agreed with my positive assessment and were very impressed with the overall athletic ability, soft hands and quick feet they saw in Betts. He moves very well at second base. There are times, however, I saw Betts stay back on balls I felt he should charge. But it all worked out for him, as he was among the best defenders at his position.
Of course, Betts is behind All-Star Dustin Pedroia in the Red Sox's system.
A true athlete, even though he has been young for the levels at which he has played, Betts can look forward to additional development time to hone his skills and continue to grow as a complete and consistent hitter and defender.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.