By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 97 G, 372 AB, .312 BA, 9 HR, 76 RBI, 16 SB, .910 OPS
2016 season (Majors): 34 G, 105 AB, .295 BA, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 1 SB, .835 OPS
It won’t take you long to find Andrew Benintendi’s name on a list of MLB’s top prospects entering the 2017 season; chances are he’ll be right at the top. The 22-year-old outfielder blossomed in just his second professional season in ‘16, and after an impressive big league debut with the Red Sox late last season, Benintendi looks to live up to lofty expectations this year.
Drafted seventh overall by Boston in ‘15, Benintendi cruised through four levels of the Minors and skipped over Triple-A straight to the Majors just one year into his professional career. In the Minors, he showed great plate discipline and the ability to make consistent, effective contact. Benintendi hit 20 home runs and stole 26 bases in 151 games through those four levels with a .312/.392/.540 line, which if translated to a full big league season would put him at an All-Star level.
Billed at 170 pounds last season, Benintendi has bulked up this year to a reported 185 pounds, with Tweets from the gym to back it up.
While his two homers and one steal in 34 games with the Red Sox may seem underwhelming, the fact that his average and OBP translated almost seamlessly is a good sign, and the homers and steals should follow suit.
Benintendi’s combination of power and speed has Red Sox fans dreaming of having a pair of outfielders capable of hitting 30 homers and stealing 30 bases in Benintendi and Mookie Betts — of whom the latter was just four steals away from accomplishing the feat last year. Betts was able to take a big leap in power last season at age 23, so Benintendi has someone who has made adjustments and taken a step forward at the big league level to confide in.
There are, of course, obstacles to overcome. Benintendi probably won’t reach his full potential out of the gate this season at just 22 years old, and at the top of his checklist will be improving against southpaws. The left-hander hit just .179 (5-for-28) against lefties with Boston and had some struggles against them in his first pro season in ‘15. He had success vs. lefties in the Minors last year but was protected against them with just 75 of 372 at-bats coming vs. left-handers. Another young left-handed-hitting outfielder, Michael Conforto of the New York Mets, had immediate success at the big league level before struggling mightily (mostly against southpaws) in his first full season last year — and many are considering him a test case. But Conforto is more of a slugger than Benintendi and didn’t have the high averages in the minors that the Red Sox youngster had.
Entering what will officially be his rookie season, Benintendi has the starting left-field job and the No. 2 spot in the lineup basically locked up. Plenty of hitters struggle in their first full season in the bigs, so expect some bumps in the road, but an injury is really the only thing that will keep Benintendi from fulfilling his potential right out of the gate in his first full season.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.