CLEVELAND — The Red Sox proved last season with Xander Bogaerts that they were willing to move quickly with their best prospects. So the news Tuesday that 21-year-old Mookie Betts was promoted to Triple A Pawtucket was expected. He was due.
Betts joined Pawtucket in Durham, N.C., Tuesday and started at second base. He was 0 for 4 with a walk in a 5-2 loss.
Betts gave the Red Sox little choice given his dominance in the Eastern League. He hit .355 with a .443 on-base percentage for Double A Portland. He had more walks (35), extra-base hits (27) and stolen bases (22) than strikeouts (20) over 54 games.
“He’s doing some things offensively that are kind of eye-popping when you see how consistent, how productive he’s been,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
Betts is a career .311 hitter with a .869 OPS in four seasons and had a streak of 71 consecutive games reaching base safely that ended earlier this season. The Sox selected Betts in the fifth round of the 2011 draft from Overton High in Brentwood, Tenn.
“We look at his performance over the course of the season to date and he’s really excelled in every area of the game,” general manager Ben Cherington said.
“He’s controlling the strike zone; he’s running the bases; he’s playing defense; he’s obviously hitting; he’s hitting for power. I think at some point, we have an obligation to challenge our young players when they are performing at a level where it’s not certain that they’re being challenged. It’s up to us to make sure that they’re being challenged.”
The Red Sox were careful in determining the timing of the move.
“We wanted to avoid introducing too much all at once to Mookie. We knew that, because he had started to play some outfield, we wanted to give him a little bit of time to settle in in the outfield before also introducing him to Triple A.
“So, now that he’s gotten a little bit of time in the outfield and he’s gotten comfortable out there, we felt like this was the time to move him up to Pawtucket,” Cherington said.
Bogaerts played 56 games for Portland last season, then 60 for Pawtucket before the Red Sox called him up in August. Could Betts follow the same path?
“Certainly can’t rule it out,” Farrell said. “Positional fit is certainly going to be a part of it.”
Farrell said Betts would play second base for Pawtucket as he gets adjusted. In time, he will shift back to playing in center field. Betts played 12 games in center field for Portland.
The righthanded hitter could put himself in position to help the Red Sox in the outfield or in a utility role. That he is now playing center field presents a clear challenge to Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Red Sox have received the worst offensive production in the majors from their outfielders. Through Monday, Sox outfielders were hitting .215 with a .287 on-base percentage and a .327 slugging percentage. They have 10 home runs.
“This was outlined before Stephen came back,” Farrell said. “We targeted [Tuesday] as part of that progression and he’ll be in the lineup [Wednesday]. This is about getting Stephen back to nine innings.”