A whole lot has happened in the last calendar year for Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts. After the game on May 5, 2013, the second base prospect was batting .150/.343/.263 after 105 plate appearances in his first full campaign in the pros, showing patience but little else. As of now, he's considered the top prospect left in the system after the graduations of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.
Obviously, just a little bit changed for Betts to send him from unknown drawing walks to the position he finds himself in now, in the midst of a 56-game on-base streak -- 61 if you're counting the playoffs.
On May 7 of 2013, we published our weekly look at Greenville Drive prospects. It was Betts' turn in the rotation:
Betts, like basically everyone at Greenville, is having trouble at the plate. He's getting on base constantly,as his 24 walks in 105 plate appearances show, but he's hitting all of .150, and not showing much pop when he does manage a base hit. As he's all of 20 years old and fresh out of short-season Lowell, it's difficult to be too hard on him for a tough first month. Plus, while you don't want him to sit and wait for a walk each time he's up, it's good to see developing plate discipline in such a young player.
Things will be better when he not only learns what not to swing at, but what to swing at, resulting in more base hits and possible enough pop for a middle infielder to live on. He's in Low-A for a reason, though, to figure those sorts of things out, and sometimes these riddles are solved one at a time.
Betts isn't the first player to post a lofty walk rate, so unless something changed, it wasn't going to mean much in the long run. Passivity can kill a player's career at the plate: ask Lars Anderson, or Betts' current teammate, Travis Shaw, about that. To Betts' credit, though, he started to swing more effectively and more often, and it changed things in a hurry. Less than a month later, in Betts' next turn in the Greenville update, his line looked completely different:
...he's now hitting .273/.415/.500, has 14 more walks than strikeouts, 11 steals against one caught stealing, and 18 extra-base hits in 43 games. Oh, he's also just 20 years old in his first taste of full-season ball.
He had been showing plenty of patience before his offensive outburst, but it was clear he needed to learn what to swing at instead of just what not to swing at. Sure, he traded in some of that ridiculous early season walk rate in order to get here, but in a matter of three weeks he brought his OPS up 310 points. More of this, please.
Betts had begun a hit streak the game before the initial Greenville update, and ended up extending it to 19 games. It would be June 13 before he failed to reach base again, though, a 33-game stretch that seemed impossible given his first month of struggles. It's funny to think that being less patient helped lead to more times on base, but that's what happened: Betts did a better job of being selective, and improved his results because of it.
Alex Speier notes at WEEI that, following his poor start last year, Betts worked behind-the-scenes with the Drives' hitting coach, U.L. Washington, in order to eliminate his leg kick and replace it with a smoother stride. This, in conjunction with the focus on cutting passiveness out of his approach, has helped lead Betts to where he is today, as the top prospect in the system according to Sox Prospects.
Betts has hit .360/.429/.557 with 45 doubles, four triples, and 17 homers in his last 130 games dating back to May 5 of last year. He's struck out under 10 percent of the time in that stretch, walked more often than he's struck out, managed to steal 47 bases in 52 attempts, and has played incredible defense at the keystone. He's managed this across three levels, with one in-season promotion and another that saw him in Double-A despite his youth -- remember, he's still just 21 years old. Betts' on-base streak is ongoing as well, and he's somehow been even better during that despite the last promotion: he's at .412/.476/.629 over his last 56 contests, and the notoriously chilly and offense-deflating April of the Eastern League is only days behind him.
Where he goes from here exactly is unknown, as he still has the rest of his time at Double-A as well as Triple-A and the majors to conquer. With the way his last year has gone, however, it's easy to believe that success will be part of his future, so long as he keeps his approach and someone gives him a bat.