Nine Innings: Optimistic Projections for Mookie Betts May Not Have Been Optimistic Enough

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COMMENTARY

Playing Nine Innings while anxiously awaiting Pablo Sandoval’s first extra-base hit with the Red Sox …

1. The 2015 Bill James Handbook projections for Mookie Betts seemed rather… well, let’s say optimistic, even for a player who made such a positive impression during his first taste of the majors last season. The book put him down for a .321/.405/.493 slash line with 15 homers, 41 doubles, 112 runs scored and 40 steals in 154 games. Bold numbers, roughly equivalent to Dustin Pedroia’s 2008 stats when he won the AL MVP. But you know what? The slash-lines might be a little high, but I’m buying the rest. Mookie is legit.

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2. One more Mookie note: It’s rather amazing — and a tribute to his talent and learning capacity — that he looks so natural in center field, not even a full year after his transition to the position. He still took some circuitous routes — especially in right field — last season. He seems to have his fly ball GPS all straightened out now. We all understand now why Sox general manager Ben Cherington refused to part with him for a top starter in the offseason, yes?

3. As for Mookie’s supporting cast… six wins, three losses, three series victories, a thumping offense, a dubious non-Porcello starting rotation and first-place standing in the American League East. Yeah, nine games is a puny sample, but isn’t this a heck of an accurate microcosm on how we expect the season to go?

4. There’s never going to be another Manny Ramirez, and I mean that in all the good ways. But Hanley Ramirez is doing a more than passable imitation at the plate (four homers in 41 at bats), and I suppose I should acknowledge he’s also quite similar to Manny defensively and when it comes to legging out groundballs. I can live with it. Hanley’s at bats have become must-watch events already, and he seems genuinely happy to be back with the Red Sox a decade after he left.

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5. Brock Holt is off to a torrid start. That does not mean he needs to play more. It means he’s thriving in a utility role that fits his skill-set perfectly. He’s not the next Ben Zobrist. But he is on the short list of the most valuable bench players in the league. That’s not a bad gig for a 26-year-old who had a .548 OPS in the second half last year.

6. Thank goodness Xander Bogaerts’s knee issue turned out to be little more than a scare. Losing him would have been tough to take, not only because of the relative lack of shortstop depth, but because he seems on his way to fulfilling his immense promise. Bogaerts has clearly improved his defensive range, and his four walks so far suggest an upgrade in pitch-recognition skills.

7. He’s hitting .083 in 12 at-bats, so the small-sample stats aren’t on my side. But despite his current adjusted OPS of minus-10, am I crazy in thinking that Allen Craig looks much better this spring than he did late last season, when he was downright awful (.425 OPS in 107 plate appearances) after coming over from the Cardinals.

8. So has every starting pitcher other than Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly had his “I’m The Ace” shirt revoked yet? Wade Miley will be better. But Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz are enigmas, and I still think the former ends up in the bullpen when another starter is inevitably acquired.

9. As for today’s Completely Random Baseball Card:

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Because sometimes it really is random.

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