Boston's farm system and the prospects therein have received its fair share of accolades these past few months, but here's a new one for you: Mookie Betts is baseball's most-blocked prospect, at least according to Keith Law.
What does it mean to be blocked? It's not as simple as having a veteran position player in your way. At least not for the players on Law's list. No, we're talking degrees of being blocked here, and Law points out that there's pretty much nowhere to put a guy like Mookie, at least not without forcing other pieces to move. Second base is right out for obvious reasons. Can he move to shortstop? But then what about Xander? Third? Cecchini and Middlebrooks are already anticipating their own jam over there. Center? Jackie Bradley Jr.
Law puts a succinct--and somewhat bittersweet--wrap on it:
It's hard to find a scenario in which they all play for the Red Sox without deleting someone from the roster due to trade or injury. Betts is seemingly the most likely to be traded of all the names here.
Those fans who follow the minors have a tendency to get attached to prospects. We spend years rooting for these players. We dream on their upside and wait impatiently for the day said upside might be realized with the big league team. To some extent we end up fetishizing the idea of a homegrown team not because it's potentially the sign of a healthy organization, but because of the connections we feel to these players we've only rarely seen outside a box score.
The sad fact is that, even in a system as robust as Boston's, many--even most--of these high-profile prospects will not live up to expectations. Honestly, Law's portrait is probably favors optimism over realism. Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Garin Cecchini, Mookie Betts--these are four very good prospects, but the chances that all four of them are good enough to demand a starting spot? Would that we were so lucky.
It's more likely that this just sorts itself out, as so many other problems seem to. Either Betts fizzles out in the upper minors, or one of the other three fails to perform and demands replacing. Even then, though, it might be that a free agent ends up being the replacement, blocking Betts once again. Ben Cherington is being paid to ignore those personal connections in favor of maximizing the rate at which the Red Sox can contend for and win championships. And sometimes that means pulling the trigger on a trade or bringing in veteran talent even if it means leaving Mookie without a home.