One of my favorite prospect experts to read, talk to, learn from, argue with, and so on is Jason Parks from Baseball Prospectus. So, when we discuss Mookie Betts and he tells me he's not as high on him as I am, it's not a moment to lash out or think he doesn't know what he's talking about: I consider something like that a moment to learn about potential pitfalls or drawbacks to a player that his scouting eyes have seen whereas my own contact-lens-wearing self has not.
It works both ways, too: Parks isn't the kind of analyst to outright dismiss what others are seeing in a player. Originally, he couldn't get over the fact that Betts was a little dude -- he's 156 pounds and 5-foot-9 -- and expected him to stop hitting, especially for power, as he moved up the organizational ladder. Over the past few months, since last the two of us talked Mookie, Parks has come around on the idea that he was underrating Boston's (now) top infield prospect, and wrote up his thoughts over at Prospectus.
I'll skip the history of Mookie, as it's one I've already told and retold in this space many times, but will include this key passage from Parks on why he missed on Mookie:
I thought he would get the bat knocked out of his hands against better stuff. He didn't. Betts is much stronger than his measurables might indicate, and when he puts his bat to the ball, it comes off like a shotgun, noisy and rambunctious, baseballs sprayed like buckshot...
...I abandoned or ignored one of the central tenets of scouting, which is "good hitters hit." As reductive as it sounds or reads, good hitters will always put good wood on the ball, regardless of the level of competition or the current status of the development arc. If good hitters always hit, and Mookie Betts has always hit, Mookie Betts is a good hitter.
Betts is in the middle of a 52-game on-base streak in which he's batted .424/.489/.660. He wasn't always hitting, but since turning a corner last May in his approach, it's all he's done, regardless of level.
To Parks' credit, the question of how much power Betts will have in the end is still an open one. The ball just flies off of his bat, but big-league pitchers are better about keeping the ball away from where hitters can do that: Red Sox fans know this firsthand, as they've been watching the similarly diminutive Dustin Pedroia do his thing since 2006. Pedroia puts a charge in the ball when he gets a pitch high and inside, and has to settle for singles and doubles otherwise. That's not a bad thing, as Pedroia's career numbers can tell you, and if Mookie is anything like the hitter Pedroia is, then there is nothing to worry about. That itself is also an open question, though, given the whole Pedroia is on track for a possible Hall of Famer career thing, while Betts is 21 and in Double-A.
Parks actually suggests the same kind of patient view of Betts' future, even with his admission that the second baseman is now a top-50 prospect after being left off the top-101 before the season's start.
If Betts becomes the player his numbers suggest, his profile is that of a perennial all-star, a batting champion candidate who plays a position of value, bringing power and speed components to the table as well. That's not a normal player. That's a franchise player. That's a $100M player in the modern game.
He goes on to say he's not "ready to push Betts to those monumental heights", and neither should we. I'm in the tank for Betts and his future, and with Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. graduating from prospectdom, believe him to be the system's top prospect now. Even my optimism doesn't make me ready to lay that kind of future as a baseline, because those kinds of players are rarities for a reason. To go back to this well one more time: even Pedroia wasn't supposed to be Pedroia as we know him. Betts still has some odds to overcome in that regard, much like Pedroia and any other undersized player has had to in order to prove they can hang with the best. Honestly, though, it's not even about size: reproducing your minor-league excellence is tough, regardless of skill set, because the competition gets better and you have to keep getting better to answer that. We don't know when, if ever, that becomes a problem for Betts, because he's just not at that point in his career yet.
Regardless, it's still good to see that, on the national side, Betts is winning over those on the scouting side. If he keeps on mashing at Double-A, and Triple-A also poses no problem, maybe we see him get another bump in his stock. For now, let's just enjoy the fact that Betts is putting on a serious clinic on both sides of the ball, and that it's getting attention outside of New England.