Mookie Betts has been a walking math problem all season for the Greenville Drive, and he knows it.
At one point, his on-base percentage was nearly 200 points higher than his batting average, and every time he reached base, it was as if he were laughing at the idea of sabermetrics.
He has been on a tear in May, batting .403 with five home runs and eight RBIs during a 16-game hitting streak. In that stretch, he has had almost as many walks (12) as runs (14). His .500 on-base percentage looks modest compared with his gaudy 1.242 OPS.
Still, for all the scorch marks he has left on the month of May, he’s hitting .261 for the year.
Not even Betts himself can explain it.
The 20-year-old middle infielder just laughed and said, “I have no idea.”
Back in April, when his numbers were on life support, some of his at-bats ended in tough-luck outs. He saw more than his share of hard-hit balls land in gloves. There were also at-bats in which he put himself in bad spots, chasing pitches he knew better than to swing at.
Betts started the season as the Drive’s No. 2 hitter, and manager Carlos Febles never dropped him, even though there was a 15-game stretch in April in which Betts went 4 for 48 with 10 strikeouts.
The hits may have been scarce, but Betts was still shaking down pitchers down for walks, which is why Febles had no problem making Betts the leadoff man by May.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, just stick with what you’ve been doing, working each and every day, and the numbers will eventually get there,’ ” said Betts.
“I just try to be selectively aggressive — aggressive to the pitches I see the best or that I recognize, and take anything else that I don’t see in my zone really until I get to two strikes and then I have to swing at something close.”
He is second in the South Atlantic League with 35 walks, one fewer than Charleston’s Gregory Bird, who has played four more games.
The Sox selected Betts in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, knowing his potential as a smooth defender, a threat on the base paths, and a solid contact hitter. After hitting .267 with nine extra-base hits and 32 walks a year ago with the Lowell Spinners, he has already shown growth at the plate.
As far as a formula for continued success, he has shown through the first two months of this season that there isn’t one.
“I really try and not really worry about the numbers,” he said. “I just try to be consistent through each aspect of the game, whether it’s defense, hitting, the mental side especially.
“Just trying to be consistently positive throughout the whole year and hopefully that does best for me.”
From at-bat to at-bat, Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina will watch Bryce Brentz lace piping-hot line drives to the gaps or blast moon shots 480 feet and marvel at the 24-year-old outfielder’s pure power.
But then there are stretches where he’ll watch Brentz sink into a self-induced slump.
Over one wildly mixed stretch in late April, Brentz smashed three home runs and drove in seven runs but hit just .180 with seven strikeouts.
But in his past 10 games, Brentz has two homers and nine RBIs, hitting .341.
“He has a tendency to be streaky at times, where he’ll go 10 days where you can’t get him out and then he’ll go 10 days where he’s getting himself out by swinging at poor pitches,” DiSarcina said.
“So what we’d like to see is him level the playing field and get him to be a lot more consistent. And that’s going gap to gap, and then later in his career, those gap-to-gaps are going to be home runs just because he’s so damn strong.”
This month, Brentz has put together seven multi-hit games.
His batting average sits at .275, his OPS at .826. He has been lethal in the clutch (.414 with two outs and runners in scoring position) and said the results come from not overdoing it at the plate.
“Trying not to overthink my way through an at-bat,” Brentz said. “Just reacting and being ready to hit. I think that’s really helping out a lot.
“I think it’s just knowing when to be a risk taker and when not to be.
“Understand that you may not have to swing 100 percent to hit the ball. It doesn’t have to go 530 [feet], it has to go 330.”
Based on brute strength alone, Brentz’s ceiling is high. With 1,353 minor league at-bats under his belt through four seasons, the next step is maturing as a hitter.
“I think with age comes that maturity and that ability to know how to turn on balls and how to use your power and how to go opposite field,” DiSarcina said.
“He’s definitely going to be a 20- to-25 home run guy. There’s no doubt about it. He’s just got plus raw power.
“But right now I think we all see him as kind of a gap-to-gap guy to try to gain control of his strike zone and not be so streaky.”
With the seventh overall pick in the June 6 draft, the Red Sox will be in the top 10 for the first time in 20 years. The last time they picked that high was 1993, when they took Trot Nixon. It’s only the fifth time since the inception of the draft in 1965 that the Sox have had a top-10 overall pick. They will be represented at the draft in Secaucus, N.J., by former captain Jason Varitek, who now serves as a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington, and scout Danny Watkins . . . The Sea Dogs tested Kolbrin Vitek in the outfield for the first time in his four minor league seasons. He was drafted in the first round in 2010 as a second baseman, then immediately converted to a third baseman but made his first-ever start in left field May 22 against New Hampshire. He was charged with an error in the second inning, fumbling a double . . . A sign that the Sox are looking to address depth issues at third: Jose Iglesias played third base Tuesday against Indianapolis, a position he had never played before. Iglesias had recently returned to the lineup after being benched for not running out a ground ball.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.