Red Sox promote Mookie Betts

Updated: June 29, 2014, 12:24 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- When Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell sat down with 21-year-old rookie Mookie Betts upon his arrival here, this was the message he wanted to impress upon the native of Nashville, Tennessee.

You're here because of what you've done and what you're doing. Don't try to do more than that.

"That's an easy thing to say," Farrell said Saturday afternoon, "but he's not looked upon as the savior of the Red Sox. He's looked upon as a young, talented, exciting player. We're looking forward to him taking the field for us."

Betts, summoned from Triple-A Pawtucket late Friday night, was not in the starting lineup for Saturday night's game against the New York Yankees. Farrell said he wanted to give him a day to get acclimated to his surroundings. But Farrell said he will be starting in Sunday night's nationally televised game against the Yankees, presumably in right field.

"I don't think we can be gun-shy about calling up young players we believe in," Sox general manager Ben Cherington said, "even though we know that nobody knows for sure how quickly success will happen."

Is Betts, who wasn't even invited to big league camp this spring and doesn't turn 22 until Oct. 7 -- six days after fellow rookie Xander Bogaerts does the same -- ready for this?

"I think I'm ready," he said. "Only time will tell. Getting out there and playing and learning more will tell if I was ready or not. The front office feels like I'm ready, so I have to feel that as well."

Farrell said the plan is to divvy up the playing time at four positions -- center field and right field, along with shortstop and third base -- among five players: the four rookies, Jackie Bradley Jr., Bogaerts, Brock Holt and Betts, and shortstop Stephen Drew. He acknowledged that Holt could see some time at short. The hope is that "all the young players" would play at least five times a week, which could mean some downtime for Drew, who came into Saturday's game with one hit in his past 30 at-bats.

"He'll go through his transition just like everyone else does," Cherington said. "We're at a point where we need to have as many good players as we can get, he's one of them, so he's here."

The Sox are only the second defending world champions in 70 years to have three or more rookies start 40 or more games. The last team to do so, the 1998 Marlins, had little choice because ownership blew up the championship roster.

[+] EnlargeMookie Betts
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesMookie Betts will make his big league debut Sunday night at Yankee Stadium.

That doesn't even take into account the rookies the Sox have been carrying on the pitching staff.

And now comes the 5-foot-9 Betts, promoted to the big leagues just 449 days after he opened the 2013 season playing for the Greenville Drive in the Class A South Atlantic League.

"It flew by," Betts said of his time in the minors. "It was literally a year ago I was in Greenville. I'm blessed to be here now."

Betts began this season in Double-A Portland, was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket earlier this month, and after just 23 games in Triple-A, was summoned to the Bronx. His rise through the system is even swifter than the ones made by fellow rookies Bogaerts and Bradley.

"It's a quick ascent, no doubt about it," Farrell said. "But every level he was assigned to, or challenged with, he's answered the call. He outpaced some of the projections, but players tell you when their time is come. The next challenge was here; the need was here."

Betts said he was with his fiancée after Friday night's game, about to eat some pizza at the team hotel, when he received a call from PawSox manager Kevin Boles, asking him to return to McCoy Stadium. Even then, he said, he didn't know what was coming.

"He told me something had happened," Betts said. "It was weird. It kind of scared me, honestly."

Boles, of course, merely wanted to convey the good news in person. Meanwhile, Sox manager Farrell and GM Cherington were informing pitcher Rubby De La Rosa he was headed back to Pawtucket.

The plans to promote Betts accelerated in the past few days. The Sox had expected veteran right fielder Shane Victorino to return this weekend, but a recurrence of his back problems brought an abrupt end to his rehab assignment with Pawtucket, with all baseball activity shut down for the foreseeable future. Cherington said Victorino will need a few days to recover from an injection -- he was administered an epidural -- before he can resume baseball activity. Betts, despite his limited experience in the outfield, became the best option, Cherington said, to satisfy the team's need for another right-handed bat, and a 13th position player.

"This is mostly about Mookie," Cherington said, "the way he was doing it, controlling the strike zone, his performance in all areas of the game. We have a need for as many good players as we can get, especially players who can move around to different positions.

"We talked about it for two or three days, and decided this was the right time. Every question we asked, the answer was yes."

Betts hit .355 in 54 games for Portland before being promoted to Pawtucket. He has reached base in all 23 games he has played for the PawSox, batting .290 (9-for-31) with runners in scoring position.

Betts, who played second base almost exclusively for the Red Sox after being drafted in the fifth round in June 2011, has been given a crash course in playing the outfield this season. He has played a total of 29 games in the outfield, and for the past two games played right field for the first time in his professional career.

Betts said he wasn't concerned with expectations.

"I'm here just to contribute," he said. "The tables are turning. This is a good team, world champions last year. So I'm sure the tables will turn. It's not just on me. It's a group effort."

Bradley, a first-round draft choice in 2011, the same year that Betts was signed by scout Danny Watkins, first met Betts in instructional league that fall, where they roomed together and became fast friends, even though they haven't played together since.

Asked how he thought Betts would cope with his new surroundings, Bradley smiled.

"He's smooth," he said. "He's calm, collected. The Mookie I've always known."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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