Mookie Betts is one of the most electrifying MLB players today. The four-time All-Star has already won two World Series — one with the Boston Red Sox and one with the LA Dodgers. Betts isn’t just one of the best hitters in the game; he’s also one of the best defenders, as his five Gold Glove Awards readily attest.
Yet Betts’ baseball journey hasn’t always been a smooth one. In fact, his struggles early in his sports career nearly caused him to give up baseball in favor of basketball or bowling. Let’s look at Betts’ rocky first couple seasons in the minor leagues, his doubts about baseball, and how he finally turned things around and paved the way for his future stardom.
Mookie Betts’ beginnings with the Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox selected Betts in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB draft, using the 172nd pick to take the then-shortstop, per Baseball Almanac. Betts had already committed to playing baseball at the University of Tennessee. After a long negotiation process, he rescinded that commitment and signed a $750,000 contract with the Red Sox, according to Tennessean.
Betts didn’t play his first full season for the Red Sox organization until 2012 when he suited up for the Lowell Spinners, a Class A farm team in the New York–Penn League. Betts split his time between shortstop and second base. Behind the plate, he hit .267, getting 67 hits and 31 RBIs in his 251 total at-bats, according to Sox Prospects.
While his raw numbers weren’t bad, Betts was well aware that he had entered new territory in terms of overall competition level. That was particularly true when it came to his batting power. Of his 67 hits, only eight were doubles, and only one was a triple. He didn’t hit a single home run. As Betts summed it up in a recent GQ profile: “I didn’t even hit a ball that hit the fence. I had one ball all year that one-hopped the fence. I had zero power.”
That offseason he started working with a trainer. His goal was simple: Begin the next season with the ability to hit a home run.
Betts’ early struggles
Betts spent his second season playing for the Greenville Drive, a High-A affiliate of the Red Sox located in Greenville, South Carolina. He came into that year feeling confident — only to find himself struggling mightily during the first six weeks. As he told GQ, “That was the first time in my life, really, that I failed miserably.”
Soon Betts found himself questioning his commitment to baseball. At just 20 years old, it wasn’t too late to jump ship — after all, he’d always considered baseball expensive and boring and “not as fun as other sports.” In high school, Betts had also excelled at basketball and, believe it or not, bowling. In fact, according to the New York Daily News, he was even awarded the Tennessee Boys’ Bowler of the Year award in 2010.
If he was going to pursue either of those paths, he would need to hone his game at the college level. So Betts went ahead and took the first step: signing up to take the ACT college admissions test.
Things turn around after Betts missed his test
As things worked out, Betts never ended up taking that exam. He’d originally scheduled it for an early Saturday morning. But his Friday night minor league game ended up going into extra innings, and with another game on Saturday night, he decided to push back his ACT exam. He didn’t want to be too tired from baseball to do well on the test — or too tired from the test to do well in his game.
Over the next few days, Betts finally had his long-awaited baseball breakthrough. After spending time in the batting cage, he realized that he needed to alter his swing, getting rid of a leg kick he’d been using to generate power. That simple decision flipped a switch. As Betts put it, “I just started hitting, and a year later I was in the big leagues. Life happened really fast.”