Mookie Betts played second base regularly for the first time in his career in 2023, and especially so against right-handed pitching after the All-Star break. The Dodgers plan to play Betts even more at second base in 2024, manager Dave Roberts said on MLB Network on Monday.
“It’s pretty safe to say that number 50, Mookie Betts, is going to be our everyday second baseman,” Roberts said in an interview with Alanna Rizzo on MLB Network’s ‘High Heat.’ “It’s one of those things that, he’s a Gold Glover out in right field, but I think that when you’re putting together a roster, and someone who can be so offensive at second base, you can get more games out of him if he is playing second base.
“Obviously with the signing of Jason Heyward, to put him out there in right field, to play vs. right-handed pitching and to play a Gold Glove right field, it just makes our club better. No you get a happy Mookie Betts, a goe that can post and play 160 games, t makes the Dodgers much better. It’s pretty much a no-brainer.”
Betts before 2023 started 25 games at second base, with 14 of those starts coming as a rookie with the Red Sox on 2014. Last season, Betts not only started 62 games at second base but also made 12 starts at shortstop while also starting 77 games in right field.
He was among the top three finishers in National League voting in both right field and as a utility player for both a Gold Glove Award and Sliver Slugger Award. He won a Silver Slugger Award in right field, the sixth such honor in his career.
In the second half, after rookie Miguel Vargas — who opened the year as the Dodgers second baseman — Betts was the regular second baseman but against right-handed pitching, starting 42 of 49 games against right-handed pitching at second base after the All-Star break, with Jason Heyward taking over in right field. Betts started 22 of 24 games against left-handed pitchers in right field after the break.
Based on Roberts’ comments Monday, Betts figures to play even more at second base. The Dodgers re-signed Heyward for 2024, though that deal has not yet been officially announced by the team. Heyward figures to continue to be used strictly as a platoon player, as he made all 98 of his starts against right-handers in 2023 and put up one of the best offensive seasons in his career.
Betts numerous times during the season expressed his joy at playing the infield, something he did at the start of his career in the minors. Roberts during the season often mentioned Betts being “on the dirt” meant less running and less wear and tear on Betts’ body. For what it’s worth, Betts’ 152 games and 151 starts in 2023 were his most since 2017, and his 693 plate appearances were his most since 2019.
Last year, Betts played the infield out of necessity with various injuries and the slow start by Vargas. Maybe this was a move to placate Betts, giving him a single position to focus on rather than move around the diamond, though that versatility did help the Dodgers in 2023.
That versatility still might come into play even if Betts is in fact the everyday starter at second base. Betts in 40 of his starts last year played in both the infield and outfield, moving from one to the other after in-game substitutions were made.
Roberts later said as much to reporters at the winter meetings in Nashville, expanding on his MLB Network interview.
Mookie Betts will primarily play second base for the Dodgers, Dave Roberts affirmed. Will still be able to kick out to to right field on occasion, but spoke with Betts on the phone recently to let him know their plans for him.— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) December 4, 2023
It is a little odd to make such a claim at such an early point in the offseason, with work still to be done to build the Dodgers’ roster. It means rather than figuring out the left-handed bat to play second base occasionally (Michael Busch or Miguel Vargas, as the current in-house options), the onus shifts to the right-handed bat to pair with Heyward in right field (Chris Taylor and Jonny DeLuca are the in-house options there).