BOSTON -- Mookie Betts understands the situation that’s in front of him this spring.
He knows that what he did last season -- making his way from Double-A Portland all the way up to the Boston Red Sox midseason -- was enough to turn heads in the organization. He also knows that the financial commitment the team has made to outfielders Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo and Shane Victorino seems to leave him without a clear role in the majors next season.
But what he knows most is that he’s an injury or move away from an everyday starting role with the Red Sox. Which is what he’s spent his time working toward this offseason back home in Tennessee.
“I know I have to go into spring training ready to make the team because anything can happen at any time,” Betts said Friday at the team’s rookie development program workout. “But I can just focus on what I do.”
There’s a lot that Betts, who’s still just 22, can do, which is what makes him such an intriguing prospect. In his 52 games with the Red Sox last season, Betts showed it all -- stealing seven bases, racking up 18 extra-base hits, and showing patience with 21 walks. But perhaps most importantly of all, he showed in his third stint with the club that he has what it takes to be a leadoff hitter at the major league level.
Even with all the additions they’ve made this offseason, the Red Sox don’t have a clear idea on who will hit leadoff next season. Manager John Farrell has mentioned on several occasions this offseason that Betts could be a candidate for the spot despite the uncertainly surrounding how he’ll crack the everyday lineup. And those who have known Betts most in his years with the Red Sox wouldn't be surprised to see him succeed there as well.
“He hit leadoff in the minor leagues quite a bit,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. “Certainly his skill set can profile in multiple spots and he does some things you like in that spot. His ability can translate in a lot of different positions.”
While Betts said he has yet to talk to Farrell about next season, he figures that the team is certain to have high expectations for him. He also has high expectations for himself. Hoping to avoid falling into the trap many young players do of having success then enduring a prolonged stretch of struggles, Betts said he’s worked most on barreling up pitches this offseason in order to keep himself ahead of the curve.
“It’s going to be more adjustments and the pitchers are going to pitch differently,” Betts said. “I’m sure I’ve changed some things that I need to go back to. I feel like spring training, that’s what it's for -- to work on those things.”
As a member of the 40-man roster, Betts will be attending his first major league spring training. There he expects to get more of an idea of where he’ll be next year, whether it’s with the Red Sox or in the minors. Even with everything Betts has accomplished, Crockett feels that there’s plenty more the young player can learn if he did return to Triple-A Pawtucket.
“I think any player at that upper level, there are things that they can do to improve their game,” Crockett said. “But certainly he’s very talented and ... his ability to handle some things at the end of the year was impressive and we’ll have to see where that leaves us in spring training.
“The way he approached things was pretty consistent throughout, and that’s what you’re looking for for a young player and really from any player. You just can’t really control the results.”
What Betts can control is his attitude, which is why he knows it’s not in his best interest to demand his way on to the team. Instead, he’s focused on earning a spot in the lineup.
“They’ll take care of what they need to take care of which is the Red Sox,” Betts said. “They’re going to put the winning nine out there, so if I’m not a part of it, that’s fine, I’ll be ready on the bench to go. And if I am, that’s great as well.
“They haven’t said anything, but I just know I want to be in the lineup. That’s my main focus right now.”