FORT Myers, Fla. — Should we get the unfair comparison out of the way?
Think about what Mookie Betts did last year and another name comes to mind:
Maybe Betts won’t make the impact that Bogaerts will. After all, both are the same age (21), and Bogaerts is ready to be the Boston Red Sox starting shortstop. Betts will be in Double-A for the first time next month, playing second base for the Portland Sea Dogs.
But give Betts time. Bogaerts signed with the Red sox when he was 16. Betts was an 18-year high school graduate when he turned pro.
When Bogaerts was 18, he finished his season in low Class A Greenville, he batted .260 with 16 home runs in 72 games and .833 OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentages).
Betts began last year in Greenville and batted .296 with eight home runs in 76 games, with a .895 OPS.
Betts was then promoted to advanced Class A Salem — and he did better. Betts batted .341 with seven home runs in 51 games, with a .966 OPS.
He also stole a combined 38 bases in 42 attempts. His defense is considered a plus.
“He does a lot of things well,” Red Sox Director of Player Development Ben Crockett said.
Another area where the Bogaerts comparison does not fit is size. Bogaerts is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Betts is 5-9, 165.
That is where Betts is probably more like Boston’s diminutive Dustin Pedroia.
And when talking about Betts, you have to bring up Pedroia. If Betts wants to play second base for the Red Sox, he may have to wait a while. Pedroia is signed through the 2021 season.
It reminds Sox followers of when Freddy Sanchez was a shortstop prospect and Nomar Garciaparra played in Boston. Everyone asked Sanchez what he was going to do (it didn’t matter, since he was traded to the Pirates in 2003).
Now Betts is hearing the question.
“It’s there and you know it,” Betts said about being blocked by Pedroia. “I think about it. But (the Red Sox) know what they’re doing with me so all I can do is just go out and play the game, and let whatever happens, happen.”
Boston can take its time with Betts. For one thing, he is just beginning in Double-A. And Betts, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011, is not eligible for the Rule V draft until after the 2015 season. Boston would not have to put him on the 40-man roster until then.
So the decisions about Betts and what position he plays can wait.
“Mookie has done a nice job at second base and it’s where we’re comfortable with him,” Crockett said.
Crockett said the focus right now is simply developing Betts as a player.
Betts, whose first name is Markus, excelled in several sports at Overton High in Tennessee. Besides being recruited as a basketball guard, Betts was the state bowling champion.
“It’s a family thing,” Betts said of the bowling.
On the baseball field, he played both shortstop and center field, batting .509 and earning All-American status. Scouts watched him play, but they also knew he had committed to a scholarship with the University of Tennessee.
“I didn’t think I was going to get drafted, to be honest,” Betts said. “Then I didn’t think I was going to sign. But it happened. It was definitely (emotional), life-changing.
“But me and my parents felt like it was the best opportunity and that I should go ahead and take advantage of it.”
The Red Sox gave him a $750,000 signing bonus. He played on the short-season rookie team in Lowell in 2012 and batted .267 with no home runs, but 20 stolen bases.
The breakout came last year.
“I guess it was just hard work,” Betts said. “Working with different coaches and coordinators. I guess if you trust what you’re doing, it all comes together.”
Baseball American ranks Betts No. 7 among Boston Red Sox prospects and 75th among all major league prospects.
Keith Law, a baseball analyst for ESPN, tagged Betts as the “most-blocked” prospect, meaning he will have a hard time breaking into Boston’s lineup. Besides second base, Betts’ other potential positions, shortstop and center field, have young prospects ahead of him (Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.).
Betts may eventually have to find another position. The Red Sox don’t seem worried at the moment.
“Virtually every player, when they make the transition to the big leagues, they get exposed to other positions,” said Crockett, who mentioned Bogaerts’ play at third base year as an example. “You never say only one position, absolutely.”
Betts may move around. As long as he keeps producing, the Red Sox will find a place to play him.
“Whatever I think, whatever I do, I just have to go play,” Betts said. “The important thing for me is to focus on getting better each and every day.”