In a poll held by MLBPipeline.com, 10 out of 20 various MLB executives and general managers voted up and coming Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi the top prospect in the league. After slashing .295/.359/.476 with 11 doubles, a triple, two home runs and 14 RBI in just 34 games with the Red Sox this past season, I can’t help but agree.
The seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft has had extremely high expectations ever since being drafted and signed by Boston nearly a year and a half ago. Benintendi slashed a total of .312/.392/.540 in his rather short stint in the minor leagues, skipping Triple-A all together. Those numbers showed fans that as far as they knew, he was pretty damn good. For much of the 2016 season, people were eager to catch a glimpse of Benintendi in action, as there wasn’t much film of him in the minors to work with, just wanting to see if the numbers really spoke to his actual play.
At the start of August, the team was essentially forced to call up the prospect, as the Red Sox’ left field core was riddled with injuries, putting catcher Blake Swihart out in front of the Monster (which ended his season) and even Travis Shaw at one point. Boston, or at least Dombrowski, decided that it was time to give Benintendi a shot and give it a go, given the circumstances. It was a success from the very start.
As mentioned before, Dombrowski made the decision of calling Benintendi up from Double-A, a risky move, as Red Sox history would show. Take Jackie Bradley Jr. for example. Back in 2013, the team called him up, skipping Triple-A, and it ended badly for JBJ. It took him years to actually find his swing again and turn into an everyday player and hitter, and he still has some work to do in that area. This was not the case for Benintendi, thankfully, being the highly touted minor leaguer that he was at the time.
Benintendi played a majority of his time in center field in the minors, but would have to quickly transition to left field, as JBJ was and remains Boston’s starting CF. Benintendi only played 11 games in LF in the minors, and played his first game there just a couple of weeks before his big league call up. Him having zero experience playing in front of an intimidating major league left field, let alone the Monster, seemed risky at first, but that has yet to be an issue for the twenty-two year old.
Leading into my next point, his maturity and calmness is second to none. You’d think he’d be nervous as all hell, back to the Green Monster in his first week being a big league baseball player, being plopped into that starting role, with such high expectations? Nope. Without knowing, one would think he’s a veteran or something. In those 34 games played in MLB, I can only recall one costly mistake he made in LF. There was no sense of panic from him at any point, and apparently there’s no rookie wall, either. That’s such a rarity, in any sport, especially from a rookie with that much pressure on their shoulders to succeed. I think that’s the main reason why he’s such a fan favorite. Any other athlete would totally allow the spotlight to get to them in an instant. Not Benny.
Benintendi’s athleticism is just phenomenal, as well. He’s already made a number of catches in the outfield ranging from “Wow!” to “How in the world did he do that?!” He’s easily one of the speediest guys that the Red Sox currently have, and it’s quite the sight to see. The best thing about it is, is that we’ve only seen the mere beginning of what he’s capable of.
His talent at the plate is otherworldly in and of itself. The plate discipline that he shows, nonetheless for a rookie, is crazy. Compared to a league average of 30.3%, he swung at pitches outside of the strike zone only 25.2% of the time. That stat doesn’t do him justice, though. You’ve got to see it to believe it. He truly looks like he’s been a pro for years, with a bat or with a glove in his hand. Not to mention, his swing is beautiful. It fits all too perfectly with what he does at the plate. He made hard contact with balls 32.9% of the time, compared to his near-MVP teammate Mookie’s 33.4%.
The most memorable 2016 Benintendi moment for me was Game 1 of the ALDS (video above). By this time, Benny had already won most everybody over, including myself. In his very first postseason at-bat as a major leaguer, in the third inning, Benintendi hit a monster of a line drive solo homer into right field in front of a roaring Cleveland crowd in his home state of Ohio. That right there exemplifies his game, next level maturity and nonexistent panic. Even his body language shows you how relaxed every time he steps to the plate or takes the field. It’s everything that you want to see in a rookie like Benintendi.
Not even a month after being called up by Boston, Benny suffered a scary knee injury after being tagged awkwardly on the basepaths by Tampa Bay Ray Matt Duffy. Fortunately, it ended up being just a knee sprain and was back to his starting role in ten days. Many feared that the rook wouldn’t be the same after this injury, plus considering how quickly he came back from such an injury like so. Benintendi didn’t miss a beat and got right back into the swing of things, literally and figuratively, and went straight back to his above-average play in LF, severely helping the depleted Sox left fielders. That only further showed what kind of resilient player he is.
Just last month when the news broke that Dealin’ Davey Dombrowski traded for Chris Sale, in the short time span of fans not knowing who he gave up, I think a majority were at least a little worried about whether or not Benintendi was involved in the deal. Thankfully, he remains a Red Sock, and is set to be the LF starter coming out of Spring Training. I remember a few months ago when Benny did suffer that nasty injury, Dombrowski said that he’d probably send him down to Pawtucket to start the 2017 season. That doesn’t seem like the case anymore, but that’s just me. He’s the clear cut favorite for that starting job.
Speaking of favorites, I’d say that Benintendi is probably the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year. 2016 was the year of the rookie, and 2017 will resume right where it all left off, as many of these studs will keep their status as “rookie” intact this upcoming season. Yankee Gary Sanchez is right up there too, but it’s definitely a competition, considering the wide variety of young talent that the American League possesses.
Maybe I’m incredibly biased because I love this guy so much and I’m speaking too soon, but I really do believe that Boston have something in Benintendi, and for the long haul, too. Again, his maturity speaks volumes and that’s why myself and others are so high on the kid. You don’t often see that, especially in a selfish sport like baseball. He could not have been called up and made such an impact at a better time with David Ortiz now retired.