Mookie Betts Showed He’s Ready to Be a Superstar on Opening Day

Betts stole the show on Red Sox Opening Day, smacking a two-run home run and making a spectacular catch in right field.

Though David Ortiz’s farewell tour will garner a lot of attention over the summer, the most consequential storyline of this Red Sox season will be Mookie Betts’ ascension into superstardom.

Betts, 23, was the best player on the field in the Red Sox’s 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians Tuesday, smacking a two-run home run off former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and leaping for a spectacular catch in right field. He’s the youngest Red Sox player in the last 100 years to hit home runs on two consecutive Opening Days.

Though Betts’ dinger put the Red Sox out to an early 2-0 lead, perhaps his most important play of the afternoon was his highlight-reel grab in the fifth inning. David Price, who struck out 10 batters in his Red Sox debut, was reeling a bit after allowing two runs in a lengthy fourth inning. Then to start off the bottom of the fifth, Indians outfielder Rajai Davis tattooed a ball to right field. It seemed destined for extra bases, but Betts saved the day.

Price cruised after that, retiring five of the next six batters he faced to wrap up an impressive Red Sox debut. Betts showed the impact he can make on both sides of the ball.

It’s difficult to draw conclusions from just one game out of a long baseball season, but Betts’ performance Tuesday symbolized the player he can be. He’s a rare five-tool talent, combining speed with power and impressive defensive instincts. It’s hard to believe he was a middle infielder just two years ago, and only switched to the outfield because the Red Sox were desperate for bodies to put out there.

But Betts handled the position change with aplomb, and finished strongly after his second stint with the Sox in 2014. He hit .303 with an .844 OPS after Aug. 1, setting the stage for a breakout 2015 campaign. Betts finished second on the team with an .820 OPS while hitting 18 home runs, collecting 68 extra-base knocks, and stealing 21 bases last summer. No wonder he’s gaining traction as a sleeper MVP candidate this season.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it’s easy to compare Betts with Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, who won the National League MVP award in 2013. McCutchen, who’s also an elite defender, posted comparable numbers to Betts in his second season—his OPS was within six points and he hit two fewer home runs. Just two years later, McCutchen led the NL in hits and posted an OPS well north of .900.

For one day on Tuesday, the Red Sox’s plan came to fruition. Price was dominant, Ortiz homered, and Betts played like a superstar. They’re going to need to follow that formula throughout the season if they’re going to engineer another worst-to-first turnaround.