Mookie Betts has been named the American League Player of the Month for July.
2016 has been an unassumingly excellent year for Betts thus far. It's probably because of how it's built. He started the season cold, as easy as it is to forget, finishing April 19 with a .565 OPS after an 0-for-4 performance against the Rays. A brief tear put him in better shape, but he still finished the month hitting a decent, but ultimately unimpressive .266/.298/.459.
Slowly, though, he's ticked upwards, hitting the occasional peak after a huge game, dipping back below the point you might expect him to be at, and then climbing steadily upwards, peaking again, and so on and so forth. He hasn't really had that ridiculous streak like Jackie Bradley went on, which is made all the stranger when you consider that Betts set records with his on-base run in the minors.
Even looking at July, there's a lot of good. It's just that it's not all that concentrated. Three-hit games spread around, a cuple homers here, a couple homers there, a few stolen bases mixed in. Then at the end you look up and he's suddenly hitting .305/.347/.534 after a full month OPSing over 1.000, leading the team in fWAR and rWAR alike, and getting his name picked up in MVP conversations.
Oh, yes, and he's also pretty good at defense, earning AL Defensive Player of the Month honors from ESPN to boot.
It's fitting, really, the way Betts has quietly risen this year. He's been doing it his whole career. Back before the 2013 season, even after more than a year in Boston's farm system, few even knew who Mookie was. He was one of those guys you maybe noticed because, hey, is that guy's name really Mookie? Maybe in confirming that it was a nickname for Markus you happened to notice his .352 OBP with the Spinners before shrugging and moving on. At best, he was a fifth-round pick marked as a dark horse for his pure athleticism and speed.
Then 2013 came and he was either a breakout star prospect or a one-year wonder. Then 2014 came and we crossed one-year wonder off the list of possibilities. Then 2015 came and we crossed out the prospect part. Now it's 2016 and we've gotten rid of breakout. Mookie Betts is a star, plain-and-simple. One of the best players in the game, and all of 23 years old. May he never wear another uniform.