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Outfield profile: The Red Sox have a future star in Mookie Betts

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Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

I love Mookie Betts. He can do everything. He has the hit tool to hit .300. He has the speed to steal 30 bases. He has the pop to hit 15 HR. He has the plate discipline necessary to run a high OBP ( 10% walk rate as a 21 year old rookie in the big leagues!).  And he's got enough gap power to have a solid slugging%. I think he's a future star, both in real and fantasy baseball. With his excellent speed and pitch selection, he is the prototypical leadoff hitter, and can easily score 100 runs in a full season's worth of at bats at the top of the Red Sox lineup. The only issue with Betts in 2015 is playing time, but he's too good to waste in the minor leagues or on the bench.

2013-2014

Betts exploded as a prospect in 2013, jumping up to #62 on MLB.com's prospect list after the 2013 season ended, and continued his dominance of the minor leagues in 2014. In just over 1100 PA in the minor leagues from 2013-2014, Betts walked 14% of the time, struck out only 11% of the time, slashed .327/.422/.506 (.928 OPS), stole 79 bases, hit 27 HR and had a wRC+ of 162, in his age 20-21 seasons. His combination of speed, contact, gap power and on base skills made him an incredibly exciting player to watch get called up to MLB.

Betts was called up in late June and turned in a fantastic rookie season. The 21 year old Betts finished with this final statistic line in the majors: 213 PA, .291/.368/.444 (.812 OPS), 5 HR, 34 R, 18 RBI, 7 SB, 130 wRC+. After Boston committed to playing Betts every day on August 18, he hit .304/.391/.466 (.857 OPS) in 169 PA. He played both in the outfield and at second base, so he will have eligibility at both positions in 2015 in Yahoo leagues.

Betts’ extremely impressive plate discipline skill also transferred from the minors to the big leagues. He finished with a 10% BB%, a 14.5% K%, a 4.2% swinging strike rate and 88.3% contact rate. These are all terrific peripheral statistics for a 21 year old rookie and show that he was not overwhelmed at the plate at all. He only swung at 20.4% of pitches outside of the strike zone; MLB average is about 30%, so he identifies pitches very well and isn't fooled often. The Boston Globe wrote an excellent piece about Betts' pitch identification through the use of neuroscouting:

That "stuff," according to several sources familiar with the Sox’ scouting efforts with Betts, was a new effort in 2011 to have prospects take part in neuroscouting tests.

Betts tested near the top of the charts for the 2011 draft class. The Sox didn’t necessarily know what that meant — there were no data to suggest a correlation between top performance on the simulation and actual in-game abilities — but Betts’s scores raised eyebrows to the point of creating some fascination when the Sox selected him in the fifth round in 2011.

Betts’s ability to race through the minor leagues and hold his own in the big leagues as a 21-year-old in 2014 — in no small part because of his excellent pitch recognition — makes the subject of neuroscouting all the more fascinating.

In simplest terms, neuroscouting reflects an effort to quantify the motor system’s response (swinging) to a cognitive function (seeing a pitch and deciding to swing). The importance of how the brain responds to the stimulus of a pitched baseball is obviously at the heart of offensive success, particularly when facing the higher velocities and sharper breaks of pitches at the big league level.

"Let’s say you’ve got Player A and Player B. They both hit .800 in high school, astronomical batting averages. Player A is picking up his pitches about 5 feet out of the release of the pitcher. Player B, on the other hand, is picking up the pitches at 20 feet or 30 feet.

"In high school, that difference isn’t going to be that big of a deal. Once you start ramping up the speed, ramping up the sharpness of the breaks, when you get to the major league level, that difference of 25 feet in terms of when Player A is making his decision and when Player B is making his decision, that’s a big difference.

"Then what you’ve got is basically Darryl Strawberry vs. Billy Beane."

2015

Betts showed up to Red Sox camp looking muscled up, reportedly weighing 181 lbs (he's listed at 155 lbs in his player bios, likely from his first pro year). WEEI posted this image of Betts:

The only potential issue with Betts in 2015 is playing time. Betts is a natural infielder; he started out as a SS but was moved to 2B because of throwing issues. Boston then moved him to the OF in the middle of 2014 to try to fit him into the MLB lineup, because he’s blocked at 2B by franchise player Dustin Pedroia. Boston then traded for Allen Craig and signed Rusney Castillo and Hanley Ramirez, creating a log jam in their outfield. Manager John Farrell said that if Shane Victorino is healthy and capable, he will be the starting right fielder in 2015, leaving Betts and Castillo to compete for the CF job. We'll see if Farrell follows through with this, but it would be very hard to imagine Betts not logging a significant amount of plate appearances in the big leagues in 2015. He's too good to waste in the minor leagues or on the bench.

If Betts is the every day leadoff hitter for Boston in 2015, I think it’s very likely he has a terrific season. I think Betts is a top 100 player in fantasy baseball in 2015 with upside for top 50. In a keeper league, he's even more valuable. ZiPS projects the following line for Betts in 2015: .266/.336/.408 with 13 HR, 30 SB, 88 R and 65 RBI. I love Betts, so I'm more optimistic. If he hits leadoff all year, I think he will score 100 runs and replicate something close to what he did last year in MLB over a full season this year: strong batting average, high on base, and solid slugging%.