Andrew Benintendi’s major league career started barely seven months ago, having made his debut on August 2, 2016, but the expectations are high for 2017. The 22-year-old will maintain his rookie status for this season and still owns the label of “MLB’s top prospect.” From what we’ve seen so far, the kid can handle the hype.
He provided a glimpse of being the total package during his initial stint with the Red Sox last year, hitting for average (.295) and for power (.835 OPS), while turning in impressive defensive plays.
Benintendi also already owns playoff experience with three ALDS games, notching a homer and a double in that series.
Red Sox Nation is eager to see what he’ll do in his first full season.
For Benintendi, Spring Training provides more than just the opportunity to improve his skills in a major league setting. He is also getting used to balancing his time between on-field duties and media obligations. According to Red Sox media relations director Kevin Gregg, the rookie has been requested for interviews as much as Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, and David Price.
Those distractions can be difficult to handle for a young player, but Benintendi said his days as a college star have prepared him for it and he has sought good advice about time management. The show of maturity complements his even-tempered personality, which is a positive indicator of success. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts had similar attitudes as they adjusted to the big leagues.
Despite a slow start to the spring that saw him go hitless in three games in February, Benintendi has put up solid numbers. In 14 games overall, he has hit .308 with two dingers and 8 RBI. All of that production has come in March. Just looking at that month, he is 12-for-31 (.387) with a .742 slugging percentage and only three strikeouts.
Spring stats are largely meaningless once the real games begin, but Benintendi is at least building momentum. He is developing an approach to be a consistent major league hitter.
It will be interesting to see what happens when he inevitably hits a slump. How patient will the Red Sox be with him? I think that if the organization is committing to Benintendi long-term, they have to allow him an opportunity to work through minor struggles. His easy-going demeanor should help him keep frustration at bay.
The concerns and doubts will come if he really starts dragging. And the questions from the media could put a lot of pressure on the rookie. “Did the organization rush him to Boston? Are his skills still too raw? Should he be sent down to Pawtucket?” His biggest test could be whether he can push through all the distractions.
If that situation does arise and Benintendi goes back to the minors, it’s worth wondering what could happen in left field. The most obvious replacement would be Chris Young as the everyday left fielder. But it could also open the door for Rusney Castillo to get one last shot, or for Blake Swihart to have another opportunity as an outfielder (assuming he’s not already the backup catcher).
The what-ifs are intriguing, but for Benintendi’s sake, I hope we never get there.
At the other extreme, this kid could legitimately win the batting title in the American League. He has hit well at all levels and shown great plate coverage.
More likely, we will see something in between from Benintendi in 2017. A solid batting average around .300 with enough pop to tally 15+ home runs would be my expectation.
His passion for baseball is clear, and it is going to be fun watching the rookie in his first full season.
It remains to be seen which will make more headlines: his bat or his hair.
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