Once the 71-game on-base streak of Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts came to an end, the Portland Sea Dogs put him in center field for the first time in his career. While Betts has been a second baseman during his time in the pros, that position is filled in Boston for the foreseeable future by Dustin Pedroia: Betts has been so good at the plate in the last year-plus that finding a new home that helps him get to the majors became a significant need.
The Red Sox won't just play Betts in center field, however. Mass Live's Jen McCaffrey has word from general manager Ben Cherington on that note:
"Right now, it's a split between outfield and second base," said Cherington. "He's played center field so far, he'll probably see some action in both of the corners at some point also.
"This is a pretty natural thing to do," Cherington added. "He's always run out to the outfield every day during BP, he's very athletic. It comes very natural to him. That's another way, when you get to the upper levels of the system, we try to increase the options and increase the flexibility.
If things go according to plan in the future, Jackie Bradley Jr. is Boston's center fielder for the rest of this decade. Things don't always go according to plan, however, so having Betts as a potential next-in-line makes a whole lot of sense, especially since the Red Sox don't have another center field prospect in the upper levels: 19-year-old Manuel Margot, in his first stint of full-season ball with Low-A Greenville, is the next relevant center fielder in the system.
If Bradley does come around at the plate -- and he should given his abilities -- then he'll stick in center given his tremendous defensive presence. That leaves either left or right field for Betts, depending on how much the Sox think his range is able to cancel out what could be a mediocre outfield arm. Having a center-field-esque outfielder in right field at Fenway gives the Red Sox an advantage defensively, as current right fielder Shane Victorino has shown. Getting Betts in a position where he could take over for Victorino following the expiration of his contract after 2015 is smart, much in the same way making him Plan B for Bradley is.
Betts not being able to utilize his incredible range at second base would be more disappointing, but Pedroia is a phenomenal defender in his own right. The fact Betts is athletic enough to give the Red Sox an upper-level outfield prospect that they otherwise would not have takes care of the rest of that disappointment. Henry Ramos, a project outfielder who might be a bench bat with defensive skills, and Bryce Brentz, a possible platoon bat with an arm but little range, are the only other two outfield prospects in the upper levels -- they're both arguably in the back-end of Boston's top-25. Betts might not be able to play in the infield, where he's spent his entire career, but he'll be filling a need for the Sox given he's much more highly regarded than maybe any other position player in the system.