Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.
Mookie Betts, IF/OF, Boston Red Sox (Profile)
Level: AA/AAA/MLB Age: 21 Top-15: 4th Top-100: 59th
Line: .345/.437/.520, 8 HR, 29 SB, 51-33 BB-K (MiLB)
The Boston Red Sox organization has one of the best minor league systems in baseball and it’s been on full display in 2014. Xander Bogaerts, a 21-year-old middle infielder, opened the year with the big club. Jackie Bradley, 24, has seen significant playing time. Third baseman Garin Cecchini received a cup of coffee in the Majors despite experiencing a bit of a down year at Triple-A. These players ranked one-two-three, respectively, on the Red Sox’s Top 10 prospects list at FanGraphs prior to the 2014 season.
So who was the fourth-ranked player? Mookie Betts.
Everyone knew he had some talent but not many people expected the spunky, 21-year-old second baseman to make his MLB debut in 2014 — let alone in June and as an outfielder. After all, the former fifth round draft pick had no experience above A-ball and only 51 games of experience in High-A ball. Prior to the season, FanGraphs ranked Betts as the 59th-best prospect in baseball on the Top 100 Prospects list. He also appeared on three of the other four essential lists: 51st overall at MLB.com, 61st at ESPN.com (Keith Law), and 75th at Baseball America (but he was omitted from Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 list).
Looking at the pre-season report on Betts, we can see some hints of what was to come in 2014 (but not the promotion to The Show):
Betts’ value jumped more than perhaps any other prospect in the system between the end of 2012 and the end of 2013. At the plate, Betts generates plus bat speed that helps him generate surprising pop for his size. He also makes good contact and has a patient approach… After hitting .341 in 51 High-A games [in 2013], Betts may be ready for a promotion to Double-A and could even see Triple-A before the year is out… Obviously, Betts is blocked at second base in Boston but he’s athletic enough to move to another position, including shortstop or centre field.
The club clearly feels it can still compete in the American League East this season, which is not surprising considering how disappointing the other teams in the division have been in June. It’s a winnable division for anyone at this point. Betts’ promotion comes more than a year before the club would have been forced to protect him (in November 2015) from the annual Rule 5 draft. With the young athlete being so advanced age for his age, though, he’s not likely to burn through three year’s worth of options before he’s ready to stick in The Show.
Going forward, Betts may end up staying in the outfield. Incumbent second baseman Dustin Pedroia is signed through 2019. Shortstop is possibly spoken for by Xander Bogaerts, although the Aruba native could also challenge young (inconsistent) third baseman Will Middlebrooks for that gig. In the outfield, Shane Victorino is signed through 2015 while Jonny Gomes is a free agent after this season. Bradley has been a disappointment on offence and has failed to nail down a guaranteed job. Neither Daniel Nava nor Brock Holt are regular outfielders. Betts’ athleticism should allow him to become a plus defender in the outfield, even if he goes through some rough moments in 2014 with just 29 games of experience away from the infield dirt.
Now, the next middle infield prospect the Red Sox have to find room for is the resurgent Sean Coyle…
Robert Refsnyder, 2B, New York Yankees (Profile)
Level: AA/AAA Age: 22 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 327 PA, .347/.413/.561, 9 HR, 7 SB, 30-53 BB-K
Refsnyder is hitting .519/.649/.963 over his last 10 games at the Triple-A level. To refer to his streak as “hot” would be a significant understatement. The young second baseman is quietly (especially for a Yankees prospect) becoming an intriguing prospect and quite possibly a tantalizing trade target for clubs sniffing around New York’s minor league system in advance of this month’s trade deadline.
Refsnyder — a 2012 fifth rounder out of the University of Arizona — opened the year in Double-A and hit .342/.385/.548 in 60 games. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A where his 1.100 OPS through 20 games has eye opening. The middle infield prospect also hit very well during his first full pro season in 2013 while splitting the year between two A-ball levels.
The 23-year-old Refsnyder utilizes a short stroke that helps him get to the ball quickly. A contact I spoke to noted the prospect’s high contact rate against all types of pitches as a key reason why he’s been so successful with the bat. He has a strong eye and doesn’t chase bad offerings very often.
Every time I’ve seen him play, he’s hustled out of the box regardless of where he hits it or how hard. He’s not loaded with immense talent but he has the makings of a solid big league hitter. The down side to his offensive game is that his value is tied mostly to his ability to hit for average. His swing is not geared to hit the ball a long way, although I’m told he’s gotten noticeably stronger since turning pro and he’s certainly seen an increase in his Isolated Slugging (ISO) rate from .120 last year to .218 this season. The young athlete doesn’t run much despite average, or a tick better, speed.
Defensively, Refsnyder struggles at times at second base but, to be fair, he was mainly an outfielder in college and wasn’t moved to second base until he turned pro less than three years ago. He may not be quite ready to play everyday at the keystone, even if his bat is up for the big league challenge, but he should be average or better in time. The contact I spoke to referred to the improvements Refsnyder has made as “extraordinary” and feels the prospect has seen improvements because of his natural athleticism and hard work.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.