EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 23, 2013

Betts turning heads with ability to get on base

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — Red Sox minor league second baseman Mookie Betts got off to a tough start right after being promoted from Single-A Greenville to High Single-A Salem in July.

The 20-year-old went just 2 for his first 14 with Salem.

“Starting off it was real tough,” Betts said. “I didn’t know what to expect going in and once I started struggling, I thought it was only down hill from there.

“But talking to (manager) Bill (McMillon) and (hitting coach) Nelson Paulino, they told me, ‘Just stick with what you were doing in Greenville. It’s the same game. Just go out and play and respect the game.’ And that’s what I did.”

Great results followed.

The Red Sox presented Betts with their 2013 Minor League Offensive Player of the Year award.

Betts batted .314 with a .417 OBP, 15 homers, 65 RBIs, 36 doubles and four triples in 551 plate appearances between Greenville and Salem. He also stole 38 bases.

He actually hit for a higher average after his promotion to Salem, batting .341 in 51 games.

Clearly, the second baseman improved a great deal from 2012 when he hit .267 with just nine extra base hits in 292 plate appearances for Lowell.

Betts, listed at just 5-foot-9, 156 pounds, has recorded a .395 on-base percentage in 847 minor league plate appearances.

“When I was real young, probably about 8 or 9, I had a coach who (told) me, ‘No matter how you get on base, you can go out there and steal bags,’” Betts said. “From then on, it just kind of stuck with me — just get on base, try to create something with my legs.”

Betts didn’t have a favorite baseball team growing up.

“I didn’t really watch a whole lot of baseball,” Betts said. “I’ve always been a basketball guy. I somewhat kind of watched (baseball) and watched how guys did things. Terry Shumpert is my uncle. He really (eventually) got me into it.”

Shumpert played 14 seasons in the majors, batting .252 with a .315 on-base percentage. He played 21 games in 1995 for the Boston Red Sox.

Shumpert recognized the potential Betts had for baseball and encouraged him to focus on the game more.

“He really helped me out and said ‘You need to start watching, you need to start learning and doing things,’” Betts said.

A fifth-round pick in 2011, Betts is ranked the 10th best prospect in the Red Sox system by SoxProspects.com ranks Betts the 10th best prospect in the organization.

More awards

Left-hander Henry Owens was named Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Catcher Blake Swihart was named Defensive Player of the Year. Base Runner of the Year went to shortstop Deven Marrero. Latin Program Pitcher of the Year went to LHP Dedgar Jimenez and Latin Program Player of the Year went to third baseman Victor Acosta.

Owens, 21, combined to go 11-6 with a 2.67 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 26 starts between High-A Salem and Double A-Portland.

Betts said about Owens: “He strikes everybody out. I know the game is going to have a good pace because he throws a lot of strikes so I love playing behind him.”

Wright honored

Knuckleballer Steven Wright — who now is with Boston — was named the organization’s winner of the Lou Gorman Award, who is presented annually to a Red Sox minor league player who has demonstrated dedication and perseverance in overcoming obstacles while working his way to the major league team.

It was until over the past two years that Wright began throwing the knuckleball in games. He needed a new main pitch to separate him from others because his career had hit a wall and it didn’t look like he would ever receive his chance to pitch in the big leagues.

“It’s awesome to be recognized because it’s not an easy transition that I made,” Wright said. “(Making it to the big leagues), it’s an honor just to do that. And the fact that they thought of me to give that award to makes it more rewarding for me. To show that hard work does pay off. Anybody that has an opportunity to do something, just do it. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Lots offense

There were plenty of good candidates besides Betts for the Red Sox minor league Offensive Player of the Year award.

The 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts — now with Boston — had a .297 average, .388 on-base percentage, 15 homers, 67 RBIs, 23 doubles and six triples in 116 games combined between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

And then there is 22-year-old Garin Cecchini who hit .322 with a .443 OBP, seven homers, 61 RBIs, 33 doubles and seven triples in 129 games combined between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB