Allen Lessels' On Baseball: Sea Dogs' talent show lands in NHBy ALLEN LESSELS
New Hampshire Union Leader
May 22. 2014 11:01PM
MOOKIE who? Just kidding. Just kidding.
The Mookie Betts All-Stars after all — packed with up-and-comers and featuring, perhaps, a World Series-winning shortstop — hit town tonight for their first appearance of the season at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium to take on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Game time is 7:05.
Betts and his Portland Sea Dogs, the Boston Red Sox wannabes, have been tearing up the Eastern League for the first month and a half of the season.
For much of the first month, it seemed, it was all about Betts, the talented and touted 21-year-old second baseman. He was the leadoff hitter flirting with the .400 batting average, the one who got on base every night — really, he got on base every night.
The on-base streak finally came to an end last Saturday after 71 games stretching back to last season. And then the excitement — and intrigue — around the Sea Dogs got ramped up a bit.
On Sunday, Betts was in the Portland lineup in a new position. For his first time as a pro, he played in the outfield in center field and the speculation started quickly. How soon would it take him to get ready and solve the outfield and leadoff woes of the big club in Boston? He played center field most of this week and word out of the Red Sox organization was he would work at the other outfield spots, too, as well as at second base going forward.
Meanwhile, Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks who helped them win the World Series last year, but then became a free agent.
He needs a week, at least, to prep for his return to the major leagues and the guessing was he’d start his minor league stint with the Sea Dogs, beginning tonight in Manchester.
The Sea Dogs have hot prospects up and down the lineup and took a 30-15 record into Thursday night’s home game against Binghamton.
The Fisher Cats, on the flip side, needed a 3-1 win at Reading on Thursday to snap a team record 11-game losing streak and improve to 16-30 for the season.
The top three prospects in the Red Sox organization — starting with Betts — are playing for the Sea Dogs, according to the web site soxprospects.com.
Betts leads the site’s most recent Top 20 list of prospects and he’s followed by left-handed pitcher Henry Owens and catcher Blake Swihart.
Shortstop Deven Marrero is at No. 11, lefty pitcher Brian Johnson at No. 14 and outfielder Henry Ramos at No. 20.
The list doesn’t include guys like first baseman Travis Shaw, who has been killing the ball and has nine home runs, a batting average of .307 and on base percentage of .399; and right-hander Keith Couch, who has a 6-0 record with a 2.39 earned run average.
The 6-foot, 6-inch Owens is scheduled to square off on Saturday against Fisher Cat righty Aaron Sanchez (1-2 record, 2.98 earned run average).
Owens has allowed only 34 hits in his 50 and a third innings, but has had control problems. He’s tied for second in the league in strikeouts with 57, but also is second in walks with 27.
Johnson (3-0, 2.01) goes against Deck McGuire (3-4, 2.98) on Sunday afternoon and Couch faces Scott Copeland (3-4, 4.44) on Monday.
Betts, a 5-foot, 9-inches and 156 pounds, has made himself the most high-profile Sea Dog of the bunch. His average has dipped, but he still took a .368 batting average, .440 on base percentage and .575 slugging percentage into Thursday night’s game. He has six home runs, 16 double and 19 stolen bases.
Now, it’s a matter of nailing down a new position.Mike Morrison realizes full well this is a whole new level — and that there is still a ways to go — but has no doubt Betts can do what is needed. Betts started at second base, third base and shortstop in various years for coach Morrison back at Overton High School in Nashville.
“After senior year, I saw him play a tournament with a team out of Memphis and they were playing him a lot out in center field,” Morrison said. “He was running balls down out there and making it look easy.
He’s very capable of making those adjustments. At any position.”
The Red Sox are counting on it.