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Mookie Betts' 3-Home Run Explosion Flaunts Red Sox Star's Limitless Upside

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJune 1, 2016

Boston Red Sox' Mookie Betts watches his home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Tuesday, May 31, 2016, in Baltimore. Betts hit three home runs as the Red Sox won 6-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

MLB released its first round of All-Star Game voting results Tuesday, and two Boston Red Sox players are leading at their respective positions.

Mookie Betts isn't one of them.

In fact, while shortstop Xander Bogaerts and designated hitter David Ortiz are on pace to start the Midsummer Classic, Betts ranked seventh among American League outfielders, per MLB Communications.

Betts also landed more than 150,000 votes shy of teammate Jackie Bradley Jr., who finished fourth in AL outfield balloting.

Maybe that had nothing to do with Betts' three-homer outburst Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles. Then again, maybe it did. A little friendly competition, after all, can be an effective motivator.

Either way, Betts became the first Red Sox leadoff hitter since 1913 to hit a trio of home runs in a single game, as Sportsnet Stats noted. And his five RBI, which matched a career high, proved to be the difference in a 6-2 Boston win.

He also flashed some ludicrous leather with a diving catch in the seventh, as Joon Lee of the Washington Post highlighted:

Joon Lee @iamjoonlee

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! IT’S MOOKIE BETTS! https://t.co/WfIuY3XIOn

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Betts now has 12 home runs in 52 games after hitting 18 in 145 games last year and 23 in his first 197 big league contests.

Not to take anything away from Bradley, Bogaerts or Ortiz, but Betts' power explosion is expanding his already-enviable upside and teasing limitless potential.

Last season, the 2011 fifth-round pick hit .291 with 21 stolen bases, flashed some pop and led Boston with 6.0 wins above replacement

We knew he was good coming into 2016. In January, ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney highlighted him as an under-the-radar MVP candidate:

Buster Olney @Buster_ESPN

This is a good sleeper MVP candidate behind the usual suspects of Trout, Cabrera, Donaldson: Mookie Betts, who had a .923 OPS after June 10.

Here's how Ortiz assessed his young colleague, per Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe:

Oh, man. He has five tools and he's smart. It's all on him. I really believe that he's getting to that point where he understands what he needs to do. He works extremely hard. He's got great hands. He knows about the strike zone real well. He knows that the minute he gets out of it—like we always talk about—it can get you in trouble. He tries to stick with the plan. Being so young, it's just impressive the way he handles his business. 

Still, none of the projection systems were particularly bullish on Betts' fence-clearing abilities. ZiPS foretold the most home runs, per FanGraphs, with a modest 14. 

At this rate, Betts could vault past that in the first week of June.

It's possible this early surge will level off. Betts never hit more than 15 homers in a season in the minors.

Then again, he's still just 23 years old, with his prime far on the horizon. Red Sox fans are permitted to dream big.

Like, say, a 30-30 season? It's not out of the question.

In March, MLB.com's Andrew Simon highlighted Betts as a possible 30-30 candidate, though he noted Betts had "a large power gap to close."

So far, he's closing it.

Entering play on Tuesday, Betts' home runs had traveled an average "true distance" of 381.7 feet, well below the MLB average of 399.5 feet, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker.  

On Tuesday, Betts became the first Red Sox leadoff hitter in more than a century to hit three homers in a single game.
On Tuesday, Betts became the first Red Sox leadoff hitter in more than a century to hit three homers in a single game.Nick Wass/Associated Press

But none of Betts' home runs on Tuesday were cheap. In the first, he blasted one high over the 410-foot marker in center field at Baltimore's Camden Yards. In the second, he hooked a three-run homer inside the left-field foul pole. And in the seventh, he cracked a solo shot deep into the seats in right.

He's passing the eyeball test, in other words, in addition to stuffing the stat sheet. 

The 26-year-old Bradley recently reeled off a 29-game hitting streak and owns a 1.010 OPS. The 23-year-old Bogaerts extended his own hitting streak to 24 games Tuesday. And Ortiz, the 40-year-old ageless wonder, is hitting .335 with a team-leading 14 homers in his supposed farewell season.

There's plenty to cheer about in Beantown as the Red Sox look to reverse course after two straight last-place finishes and climb back onto the October stage.

Put Betts at the top of the cheer-o-meter. And if he keeps bashing baseballs where no one can catch them, put him among the ranks of rising All-Star candidates.

The voting, after all, is just getting started.

And so, apparently, is Betts.

All statistics current as of May 31 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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