BOSTON -- Just 40 games into his major league career, Mookie Betts found himself in Pittsburgh, staring at the player many considered his doppelganger.
Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen had to be honest. Was he supposed to know the 21-year-old? He barely recognized the name.
That was 2014. Five years later, McCutchen holds a very different view of the defending MVP.
"I've never done what he's done," said McCutchen. "For them to compare him to me, that's pretty laughable."
McCutchen is being too modest. Five years before Betts claimed the 2018 MVP award, McCutchen turned the trick for the Pirates with a very Mookie-like season: .317 average, 21 homers, 84 RBI, 27 steals. It came as part of a four-year run of top-five MVP finishes that also included a Gold Glove and four consecutive Silver Slugger awards.
In town with the Phillies while rehabbing a season-ending ACL tear, McCutchen reflected on all the ways Betts has surpassed him since becoming a household name and World Series champion in Boston.
"I've done all right. I've done all right for myself," McCutchen said. "But I think if anyone did what I did my MVP year, they probably wouldn't be winning an MVP nowadays. Mookie's doing exceptionally well. He's a guy who's not of tremendously big stature but generates a lot of power. He plays great defense. Plays great right field. He can do it all. He's fun to watch."
The McCutchen comparisons made sense as a Betts' best-case scenario because both five-tool players overcame a relative lack of size to post legitimate power numbers derived from lightning-quick hands while playing Gold Glove defense in the outfield.
That said, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound McCutchen is clearly bigger, stronger, and thicker than the 5-9, 180-pound Betts. Picture the difference between former Patriots running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Dion Lewis.
"He's gotten to the point now in his career where if he's not hitting .330 with 40, driving in 100 and scoring 100 runs, it's a down year," McCutchen said. "You look back at that, and you know you're doing something good. I'm sure people are saying he's having a subpar season this year. Ultimately, he isn't. He's actually having a really good season, but just maybe not like his MVP year. He's gotten to that point where people expect him to do well and do better than well. That means he's doing something really good and something really special."
McCutchen reached the majors in 2009 at 22 and was an All-Star two years later. Betts followed a similar progression, except he debuted at 21 before becoming an All-Star in 2016 at 23.
"He's only what, 26?" McCutchen asked. "He's only 26 years old and he's doing the things he's done and still has a lot of years left to play. It's safe to say he's going to have a pretty good payday when the time comes.
"You can't help but see and hear about him, just because of what he has done, because of the World Series last year and winning the MVP. You're going to hear his name, you're going to see him. The guy's bowling 300s. He's out there and he's done a lot in his career thus far. Like I said, a special talent."
One area where the two diverge is earnings. McCutchen's teammate, Bryce Harper, is already on record that he hopes Betts tops his $330 million contract when he reaches free agency next year. McCutchen signed a $51 million extension with the Pirates in 2012 and is currently playing on a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies. Betts could end up tripling his career earnings, especially since McCutchen hasn't held up as well since making his most recent All-Star team at age 28 in 2015.
"He deserves it, to say the least," McCutchen said. "There's not many people doing what he's done, putting up the numbers he's put up. So the contract should reflect that. I'll be happy for him when he does get that deal, and hopefully, it's not too hard for him. Hopefully, someone gives him what he deserves and go from there. He's just going to keep getting better."
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