In recent years, the Red Sox have called up and gotten big contributions from young players like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts, and even traded away arguably the top prospect in the game in Yoan Moncada. So it’s safe to say they’ve done a pretty good job identifying and developing young talent in recent years.
And, at this point, Andrew Benintendi might just be the most talented of the bunch.
That is saying a lot — maybe too much — but Benintendi edged out Moncada in BaseballProspectus.com’s and Baseball America’s ranking of Red Sox prospects before the trade, and was recently named MLB.com’s top overall prospect in baseball. Sure, Betts might have finished second in AL MVP voting last season — while taking home a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger to boot — but a bunch of publications think Benintendi is the top prospect in baseball, so I think we’ll call it a draw.
In all seriousness, Benintendi seems poised to open the season as the consensus top prospect in baseball, and definitely needs to be on Fantasy players’ radars. He already made his major-league debut last season, hitting .295 in 34 games, and should have an everyday role waiting for him this spring. Being a top prospect is no guarantee of success — just as Byron Buxton — but Benintendi gives Fantasy players a lot to be excited about.
Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical of the Benintendi hype when I first started my rankings, but it didn’t take long for my tune to change. Benintendi’s minor-league numbers may not jump off the page immediately because he doesn’t look like a standout in any one area, but it’s pretty rare to find a player with this kind of five-category potential:
Benintendi (minors): 151 games, 20 HR, 26 SB, 106 R, 107 RBI, .312 batting average
The runs and RBI are team-dependent, obviously, but that shouldn’t be an issue on a Red Sox offense that is going to keep rolling even with the retirement of David Ortiz. Benintendi only hit two homers in his major-league stint last season, but the 11 doubles are a nice reminder that this kid’s got a good swing that should produce power in the majors, too.
The thing that really sticks out about Benintendi is the approach at the plate. From Dustin Pedroia to Mookie Betts, the Red Sox certainly have a type, and Benintendi fits the mold perfectly. Even in his brief stint in the majors, Benintendi struck out at just a league-average rate, and his time in the minors suggests he could be even better than that as he settles in. In 657 trips to the plate, he struck out just 9.6 percent of the time. Betts, who struck out just 10.9 percent of the time last season, had a 12.1 percent strikeout rate in the minors.
Benintendi’s ability to hit for power — .228 ISO in the minors, .181 in the majors — while avoiding strikeouts should allow for a strong baseline for his batting average, and it’s not a stretch to think he should hang around .300 most seasons, with the potential for a batting title or three down the line. He also walked more than he struck out in the minors, and had even managed to hold his own against lefties until getting to the majors.
If you’re looking for a potential pitfall for Benintendi, that could be the place to start. Benintendi struck out 12 times in 33 plate appearances against southpaws in his stint in the majors, and though that’s a small sample size, it’s an obvious area of concern for any young left-handed batter.
Michael Conforto wasn’t quite on Benintendi’s level as a prospect, but he was a similarly polished college hitter who advanced through the minors swiftly without showing many flaws in his game. Major league pitchers, of course, found some, and his inability to hit lefties — and his team’s resulting lack of confidence in him — have presented a real obstacle on what was very recently looking like a clear path to stardom.
That is, for now, a relatively minor flaw, and a perfectly understandable one at that. Few players are perfect, and if Benintendi isn’t yet at 22, that’s no reason to be concerned. However, if you are going to invest heavily in him — I have him as a 10th-round pick in seasonal leagues — that flaw could end up sinking him.
Additionally, Benintendi hit ninth in most of his appearances with the Red Sox last season, and that as much as anything could define his Fantasy appeal. All expectations are that he will slide up near the top of the batting order, and he has the type of profile to be hugely valuable in the one or two spot in this order. However, he’s no guarantee to stay there. Granted, if Benintendi falls back to the bottom of the order, he isn’t living up to expectations.
There’s a lot to like about Benintendi heading into the season. He has a pedigree you want to bet on, and the polish that should make for an easy transition to the majors. However, with a relatively limited track record in the high minors and majors, he simply hasn’t been tested much yet. He has the talent to sail through any test put in front of him without much trouble, but one needs only look at the likes of Buxton or Addison Russell to see how even an elite player with an advanced profile can struggle early in their careers.
Based solely on his youth and lack of experience, Benintendi has a huge range of potential outcomes. At a 10th-round draft price, he could be well worth the risk, and it’s a bet I will be taking whenever I have the chance.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / 2017 Fantasy Baseball draft strategy: How good can Andrew Benintendi be?