The Situation: Xander Bogaerts. Mookie Betts. David Ortiz. Hanley Ramirez. Jackie Bradley, Jr. These are all names of people who are good at hitting the baseball, and they all play for Boston. Now Andrew Benintendi does too.
Background: Benintendi wasn’t a complete unknown coming out of high school, but he wasn’t taken too seriously as a draft prospect in 2013 (though the Reds did pop him in the 31st round), and he honored his commitment to the University of Arkansas. After a solid but certainly not spectacular freshman campaign, Benintendi shined in 2015, putting up monster numbers in the loaded SEC conference and establishing himself as one of the best collegiate bats in the country. After Boston scooped him up with the seventh pick in the draft, he destroyed pitching at both of his professional stops (Lowell and Greenville) and earned a trip to High-A Salem to start 2016. After beating the crap out of that pitching, Benintendi was hitting .295/.357/.515 in Double-A Portland, and now will get a chance to maim pitching at the highest level.
Scouting Report: Benintendi makes things look easy. Despite being no bigger than 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, he generates easy plus bat speed, and his consistent control of his swing along with excellent hands allows him to make hard contact to pitches on every part of the plate. He recognizes pitches well, and though he’s aggressive, he certainly won’t give away at-bats by swinging at pitches out of the zone. There’s also very little swing-and-miss here, as he possesses excellent hand-eye coordination and has a knack for fouling off tough pitches.
Despite his small size, Benintendi also has a great chance to hit for power at the next level, as well. It’s closer to above-average than to plus, but the swing path allows for natural lift, and he generates some leverage with his lower half as well. I wouldn’t expect 30 homer seasons, but 20-plus homer seasons are well within reach. He’s also a plus runner, but if there’s one weakness to his offensive skillset, it’s that he’s not a great base stealer. Yet.
It’d be enough for Benintendi to just be an offensive machine, but he’s pretty good with the glove, too. He gets excellent jumps in the outfield and takes efficient routes, and though the arm is only average, he gets rid of the ball quickly and gets it to the base accurately. Center field is his best position, but he’s going to hold up just fine in whatever corner the Red Sox put him in (assuming that’s what they chose to do).
Immediate Big-League Future: “That guy is a big league player right now” — anonymous scout because I didn’t know who he was. I heard some iteration of that said a bunch at the Futures Game in San Diego three weeks ago, and I can’t disagree with them. There are four plus tools here, and Benintendi is such a smart player with quality instincts that it’s really tough to see him not being an impact player immediately. Baseball is really hard, but Benintendi makes it looks easy —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Take: For those of you who didn’t already blow the remainder of your FAAB stockpile on Alex Bregman or David Dahl, Benintendi’s probably your dude. The skill set is tailor-made for the fantasy game, with well-rounded production to fill up all five categories in a proper lineup context. The seventh-best prospect in our Mid-Season Dynasty Top 50, he’s the highest-ranked player left that has a reasonable shot at promotion this year. His reasonably all-fields approach should play pretty exquisitely at Fenway, and his lack of a discernable split as a professional bodes well for his ability to seize regular playing time if the production translate. And it has translated at every level thus far, albeit after a brief adjustment period at Double-A. The power didn’t manifest early in the season, and it remains the biggest question mark in Benintendi’s fantasy game. This is a guy who came out of relative nowhere in his draft season to crush 20 homers in spite of a compact frame, after all.
I wrote about him at the Future’s Game a few weeks back, and other members of the prospect team have mentioned it in the past: the ball jumps off his bat differently than it does most guys who look like him. There’s a directness and efficiency in the bat path that not many hitters have – at least not many who can match his hand-eye. The result is a strong bat-to-ball profile that produces an awful lot of line drives, and they’re the kind of line drive that carries. I saw a 17-20 homerun bat in Fenway Park – more in a different home park – and while the stolen base efficiency hasn’t been there against Double-A batteries, he’s got the speed and instincts to put up stolen base numbers in that range as well. Pro-rate those numbers, and you’re looking at a potential .280 hitter with six or seven homers and a similar number of bags down the stretch.
The risk is certainly high, given his youth and the aforementioned period of adjustment when he graduated to the high minors earlier this summer. But this is the kind of player who can be a difference-maker if it clicks, and the upside is worth a hefty wager of the remaining chips in your stack. —Wilson Karaman