Baseball America has named Mookie Betts the top rookie second baseman of the year, placing him on their all-rookie team for 2014.
Oftentimes these sort of honors are basically decided by default. There are only so many rookie players at any given position in any given year, so sometimes first, second, and third place all fall to the same man. As Baseball America points out, however, there's three rookie second basemen still getting starts in the playoffs. Kolten Wong even just hit a walk-off homer for the Cardinals!
Well, Betts may have to wait for his first taste of October baseball, but there's no arguing with his regular season performance. In a year that began with his first ever plate appearance in Double-A, Betts ended up collecting 213 major league plate appearances, hitting .291/.368/.444 in his first exposure to the top level of competition. Forget rookies--that .812 OPS was only topped by Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve amongst second baseman this year.
He managed this despite having to learn on the fly when it came to defense. While Betts was given the nod at second base, his natural position and where he played up until a few months ago, the presence of Dustin Pedroia has pushed Betts into the outfield. Mookie received just 14 starts at 2nd base for the Red Sox this year, with his other 36 coming in the outfield--and most of those in center. Betts may have showed his inexperience out there at times, but also showed he's got plenty of range to handle the position if that's where his future lies.
All told, projected out over the course of a full season, Betts' performance would have contended for the best year amongst second basemen period. Granted, that's assuming not only health, but that he could maintain his hot start throughout the course of a season. On the other hand...well, Rookies are expected to get better with experience, and Betts does not have the hallmarks of a flash in the pan. He's got the tools to cut it on defense, and is disciplined at the plate with both the contact and power to punish strikes if pitchers challenge him. If this is the foundation on which he builds, the final product is going to be very impressive indeed.
He will still have to prove it in 2015. But that's nothing new for Betts. He started 2013 as an obscure fifth-round draft pick coming off an unspectacular rookie season in short-season lowell, with strong discipline and stolen base numbers only going so far in the face of a .658 OPS. So when he rattled off one of the most dominant seasons by a Red Sox prospect in recent memory, there were those who questioned whether he was anything more than a one-hit wonder.
Those questions were answered by an all-rookie season. Perhaps these ones will be answered by something even greater.