"I don't remember seeing him swing and miss," Watkins said.
And it wasn't like Watkins watched Betts play only once or twice. He spent weeks around the John Overton High School baseball team in suburban Nashville, Tennessee, in 2010 and 2011 and saw dozens of games. Watkins has plenty of stories about the ease with which Betts hit line drives to every part of the field, terrorized opponents on the bases and made diving stops and leaping catches at shortstop.
But swing and miss? No, that was never Betts' thing.
So consider Watkins impressed as ever, though utterly unsurprised, to learn that Betts hadn't struck out in 128 consecutive regular-season plate appearances for the Red Sox through Tuesday night's 8-7 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. It's the longest streak in the majors since Juan Pierre went 147 plate appearances without striking out for the Florida Marlins in 2004, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Not since Denny Doyle in 1975 (159 plate appearances) has a Red Sox player gone so long between strikeouts.
Betts' run is even more impressive when you consider strikeouts are on the rise across baseball. Last season, 102 players fanned at least 100 times, an increase from 63 players in 2006. Since Baltimore Orioles reliever Oliver Drake fooled Betts with a splitter in the sixth inning of a game last Sept. 12 at Fenway Park, four players -- Byron Buxton, Randal Grichuk, Danny Espinosa and Chris Davis -- have each struck out more than 40 times.
Save for a strikeout in his first postseason at-bat last year, the only "K" associated with Betts lately is the one he needs to spell Mookie.
"When I was scouting Mookie, that was clearly one of the things that was so good about him," Watkins says. "He had total command of the strike zone at that point, and he just didn't swing and miss very much. Generally, his contact was off the barrel. I didn't see him really get off-balance, which indicated he was able to identify spin early. That's why it was clear to me that the guy had a chance to hit."
Betts struck out 13 times during his four years at Overton, according to records kept by the school's longtime baseball coach, Mike Morrison. He struck out only once as a junior and four times as a senior.
At every stop in the minor leagues, from short-season Lowell through Double-A Portland, Betts had fewer strikeouts than walks. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, he has made contact on 87.1 percent of his swings entering the series in Toronto, the sixth-highest rate in the American League, according to Fangraphs.
It isn't like Betts always swings early in the count either. Sixty of his plate appearances during the streak have reached two strikes, with 21 resulting in him reaching base (15 hits, six walks). In the seventh inning Monday, Betts ran the count to 2-2 against Rays reliever Chase Whitley before calmly lining a double to the gap in left-center.
What accounts for Betts' extreme ability to get his bat to almost any ball?
Start with his hand-eye coordination, which is off the charts, even by the standards of major league hitters. But it's more than that. According to Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, who worked with Betts in the minors, Betts possesses a freakish ability to recognize the location of pitches long before they approach the strike zone.
"He's aggressive and he's ready to swing the bat, but he always swings at good pitches. You rarely see him swinging at bad pitches, and when you do that, the chances are you're going to put the ball in play," Rodriguez says. "We were in instructional league [in 2011], and I saw that right away, an ability to control the strike zone, ability to hit the ball to all fields, an ability to get the head of the bat to the ball. That's something you cannot teach. It's something that comes with him, and he had it from day one."
Indeed, Betts' cognitive skills were evident from the well-chronicled time that he aced a series of neuroscience tests administered by the Red Sox before the draft. Betts, who solved a Rubik's Cube in less than two minutes during a pregame show segment in 2015, was asked to tap the space bar on a computer as soon as he saw a baseball spinning in a particular direction.
"Mookie was the most observant kid I have ever coached," Morrison says. "He picked up things in a game better than kids his age usually do. He watched how pitchers worked his teammates. He watched sequences that pitchers were using -- what they threw in hitters' counts, what they threw behind in the count and what pitchers were throwing in two-strike counts. He used that information to make himself an extremely good hitter."
Oddly, Betts has only two home runs since his streak of plate appearances without a strikeout began, including his first homer of the season Tuesday night against Toronto Blue Jays reliever Joe Smith. He isn't off to a particularly scorching start this season, with only four extra-base hits in 45 at-bats, though a three-day absence because of the flu messed with his timing coming out of spring training.
But Rodriguez says Betts' ability to make contact allows him to have productive at-bats even when he isn't producing runs. In fact, Betts was still contributing to rallies by getting on base at a .420 clip and moving runners when he doesn't reach.
"I think what makes Mookie good is he never gets out of his approach," Archer said. "With two strikes, he's still a well-balanced hitter. He's not trying to pull everything. He's not trying to choke up. He's a well-balanced hitter with elite bat-to-ball skills. I don't know if it's hand-eye or what. Guys like him that don't strike out, you don't try to strike them out. You just have to execute your pitch and let it go from there."
Nobody will be surprised if Betts' streak continues. He still has a long way to go to catch former Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Dave Cash, who holds the expansion-era (since 1961) mark with 223 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout, according to Elias.
"I think he learned a lot in the minor leagues through the hitting coaches that he had about the importance of a good at-bat," Rodriguez said. "It doesn't necessarily have to always be a homer or double. It's being able to see pitches, work counts, put the ball in play with two strikes. If you continue to do that, the homers and the doubles are going to come."