PAWTUCKET – Mookie Betts made his Pawtucket Red Sox debut on June 3. Barely three weeks later, the highly-coveted prospect saw the Red Sox call an end to his Triple-A apprenticeship and throw another log into the “Mookie Mania” fire pit.
After mastering four minor-league levels over the past year and a half, on Saturday the day arrived for Betts to step on the big stage and see if his versatile ways – both on offense and defense – can spark a sagging Boston squad in dire need of a talent and energy injection. Only time will tell if this 21-year-old is indeed the antidote for Boston’s ills, but his stay with the PawSox was as sweet as it was short.
“He wasn’t here long. It was between haircuts,” joked Kevin Boles, the Pawtucket manager who had the duty of telling Betts face-to-face to pack his bags, for Yankee Stadium and a big-league roster spot beckoned. “We told him (Friday night) that it was a possibility, but until the official announcement is made by Boston, you never know.
“He’s excited and he should be,” Boles said. “A lot of things have happened for him and a lot of success, but it’s well deserved. He’s a terrific kid and worked hard to put himself in this position. He’s a guy you pull for. When he came in this clubhouse, it was infectious. His (Pawtucket) teammates definitely loved having him.”
One of Betts’ now-former PawSox colleagues made it a point to text him congratulations. Putting a message on Twitter for everyone to see was certainly an option, but third baseman Garin Cecchini opted for the personal, private touch.
“Hopefully he does his thing up there and I think he will,” Cecchini said. “He’s a good player and going to be a major leaguer for a long time.”
Mike Hazen, Red Sox assistant general manager, offered a premonition of sorts on the day Betts joined the PawSox.
“It comes with the territory. Once you go to Triple-A, there’s sort of that dual focus on the major leagues and the minor leagues,” Hazen said earlier in the month. “We want him to get comfortable in Triple-A. The time line on his approach to the big leagues, it’s no different than with any other player. Certainly at that level, guys have to protect the major-league club if needed. Right now, we want him to focus on continuing his progression as a player.”
After Saturday’s announcement, Hazen’s words officially ring true. Considering the Red Sox have scored three or fewer runs 11 times in the past 13 games, the need for a game-changing sparkplug is evident. When Betts does make his Red Sox debut – he was not in the lineup Saturday – his penchant for getting on base will likely be his calling card.
“From what we saw here and the way he competed, we felt that he’s a player who can definitely help our major league club, there’s no doubt about it,” Boles said. “The energy he brings and the presence that he has … guys gravitate toward him.”
Betts departed the PawSox with a .322 batting average and a 23-game on-base streak that encompassed his entire stint with the club. He took over the leadoff spot almost immediately and ended up recording more walks (16) than strikeouts (13) over 106 plate appearances. His .425 on-base percentage was better than the marks posted by fellow prospects Xander Bogaerts (.369) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (.364) during their respective Pawtucket tenures.
Mentioning Betts with Bogaerts and Bradley seems appropriate since all three players drew strong interest from fans and media alike as they made the climb toward the top of baseball’s professional pyramid. Last weekend when Betts’ name started to surface as a potential call-up, the Tennessee native and 2011 fifth-round draft pick went to Boles and apologized for adding more stress to his boss’s already hectic and demanding schedule.
“The attention Mookie got was not unique and I think he needed to understand that also. That’s just part of the deal of being in this market,” Boles said. “I thought he handled it beautifully.”
Despite his short stay at the AAA level, the on-field staff that saw and interacted with Betts say they saw Betts progress as a player during his time here.
“He understood what the Triple-A has to offer as opposed to Double-A or him being in A ball last year and seeing how more mature and experienced these players are, not to mention how they pitch him different,” Boles said. “There was a lot of information thrown at him, but I thought he was able to digest everything.”
To go along with his capabilities as an on-base machine, Betts can also impact the game with his legs, arm and glove. He stole 88 bases and was caught just 13 times in 276 minor-league games, and though a second baseman for much of his professional career, Betts began seeing time in center field toward the end of the two months he spent with Portland. With Pawtucket, he made 15 starts in center field and two in right field.
The appearances in right took place last Thursday and Friday, the same day that the Red Sox decided to press the pause button on Shane Victorino’s rehab assignment.
“When you have the second base and center field (ability), that’s where the comfort level will be initially,” Boles said. “Who’s to say how many positions (he ends up seeing time at, a la Brock Holt), but he does have a chance to play a variety.”
Current PawSox coach Bruce Crabbe managed Betts for 71 games in 2011 in Single-A Lowell. After seeing Betts complete his professional baseball ‘”finishing school” with a flourish, Crabbe has seen the young man at both ends of the minor league spectrum.
“That’s the fruits of our labor to see a kid like that who’s got it and has a chance,” Crabbe said. “It’s hard to believe that everything happened so quickly, but it just snowballed. He grew up right in front of your face over a short period of time. ”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03