Why Mookie Betts was ‘kind of scared’ by his call-up, and why the Red Sox don’t consider him a savior
|06.28.14 at 7:27 pm ET|
NEW YORK — The call was confusing. Mookie Betts had gotten back to his hotel room after going 0-for-2 with a pair of walks and playing right field for Triple-A Pawtucket. He and his fiancÃ©e had ordered pizza when he got a call from PawSox manager Kevin Boles, asking him back to McCoy Stadium immediately.
Ordinarily, that might be viewed as a giveaway of a big league summons. But that wasn’t the case here.
“Bolesy called me and told me to come back to the field, told me he had something to tell me, he didn’t want to do it over the phone,” said Betts. “He said something had happened, and I had no idea. It was kind of weird. He said, ‘Something happened,’ and it scared me honestly.”
Those fears quickly subsided when Betts received the message: He would be heading to New York to join the Red Sox, reaching the big leagues less than three years into his professional career. His arrival in the big leagues represents the culmination of a breathtaking run that has defied expectations. He opened last year in Single-A Greenville, and there was an expectation when he was assigned there that the likeliest scenario was that he’d spend all of 2013 there.
Instead, Betts dominated there starting in May, got moved up to High-A Salem in July, followed the year by going to the Arizona Fall League, opened this season in Double-A Portland, needed just 54 games to get a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket in early June and, finally, before the end of the same month, the move up to the big leagues.
“It flew by,” said Betts. “It was literally last year that I was in Greenville, but it’s a blessing to be here now. … Maybe when I got to Triple-A I made it a goal that I wanted to make it to the big leagues this year but I still wanted to play no matter what. I wasn’t too set on making it but it was a motivating tool.’
The Sox were caught off guard by the pace of his development. After all, the team didn’t invite him to either its Rookie Development Program in January — meant to create comfort and familiarity with the environment in Boston for players who are expected to reach the big leagues in the next 12 to 18 months — or to big league spring training.
“It’s a quick ascent, no doubt about it. Every level that he’s been assigned to, challenged with, however you want to describe it, he is more than answered the call to it. I think the fact that he wasn’t invited to some of those means he’s outpaced some of that projection,” manager John Farrell acknowledged. “I think the way we always view it is player tell you when their time has come and when they’re ready and based on what he’s done at every level throughout the minor leagues, the next challenge was here. The need is here, as is Mookie.”
Betts appears likely to contribute to the Sox in center field and right field, the two positions where he received some exposure in the minors starting in mid-May following a pro career spent mostly at second base. He played 27 games in center before spending two games in right on Thursday and Friday in Pawtucket. He expressed no reservations about playing outfield in the big leagues.
“Definitely a lot more comfortable [now than a month ago], because experience is what’s going to teach you and get you comfortable,” said Betts. “Now I feel like it’s my home.”
Now, so, too, are the big leagues. The Sox will give Betts a day to absorb his surroundings on Saturday, then have him in the lineup on Sunday. For now, the plan is to incorporate Betts as one of five players (Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brock Holt, Stephen Drew and Xander Bogaerts) for four positions (center and right field, shortstop, third base), with the idea that everyone should play roughly five to six times a week. That somewhat loosely defined goal underscores the fact that the Sox want Betts to be comfortable with the notion of being a contributor, rather than a player who faces undue pressure in turning around the fortunes of a flagging franchise.
“He’s here because of what he’s done and what he’s doing and not to do more than that,” said Farrell. “He isn’t looked upon as the savior for the Red Sox. He’s looked at as a young, talented, exciting young player. And we’re looking forward to him taking the field for us and confident that he’ll be able to contribute.”
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