Sox considering Mookie Betts to bat leadoff

Jim Davis/Getty Images

BOSTON -- It's hard not to be impressed by what Boston Red Sox top prospect Mookie Betts did in the majors as a rookie last season.

In 52 games, Betts showed a keen batting eye, some occasional pop, the ability to make contact and enough speed on the basepaths to present a consistent threat. Consider those qualities and you've got yourself the prototypical major league leadoff hitter. That's a sentiment that Red Sox manager John Farrell would agree with.

"He's clearly a candidate for us," Farrell said of Betts on Saturday at the team's annual Christmas at Fenway event. "[Former leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury] did such a great job for us for a number of years and when he signed elsewhere we went through a little bit of a search to get those skills."

In the process of that search last season, the Red Sox went through seven different leadoff hitters, with only two options proving they could truly handle the job. The first was Brock Holt, who figures to enter next year as a super utility player off the bench. The second was Betts, who took over the spot after Holt sustained a concussion late in the season.

In 22 games out of the leadoff spot, Betts hit .310 with a .388 on-base percentage and low strikeout ratio (16 in 98 plate appearances). And, perhaps more importantly, he showed that he has what it takes to handle the role.

"He's got some natural confidence, there's no question," Farrell said. "I think, because of that confidence, he's somewhat fearless. Now that doesn't mean he's reckless, but he doesn't balk at the challenge that he's been faced with.

"The aggressiveness is combined with some overall awareness and that's the thing you see for a young guy that's so exciting is that there's a game awareness that exists that is pretty unique."

The issue in simply handing Betts the leadoff role, however, is handing Betts a starting job. Having fully transitioned to an outfielder last season, Betts figures to be fourth on the team's depth chart behind Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo and a healthy Shane Victorino.

Of course, plenty could still change before the season starts. For now, Betts has at least caught Farrell's eye as an option to jump-start the Sox's offense, something that is a result of what he showed across his several stints with Boston last season.

"We saw improvement each of the three times he came back to us," Farrell said. "That on-base/speed combination to be a little bit of a base-stealing threat. They are rare. Some strength and speed combination doesn't come along with a lot of guys that come to the big leagues."