Mike Rosenbaum argues that Red Sox OF should lead Top 100 Prospects list
By Mike Rosenbaum
MLBPipeline.com will unveil its 2017 Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we make a case for three players -- Yoan Moncada, Gleyber Torres or Andrew Benintendi -- who could be the No. 1 overall prospect.
Red Sox fans were given a glimpse of the team's future in 2016 with the arrival of Andrew Benintendi.
Benintendi made his big league debut on Aug. 2, less than 14 months after the Red Sox took him with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 Draft out of Arkansas. His impact was immediate, as the 22-year-old outfielder batted .295/.359/.476 over 34 games, with 14 of his 31 hits going for extra bases, all the while playing strong defense in left field.
That success followed Benintendi into October, when he became the youngest Red Sox player ever to homer in the postseason, doing so in his first at-bat in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Indians at Progressive Field. He finished the season ranked fifth on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 prospects listafter beginning the year at No. 25.
Entering the 2017 season, Benintendi already ranks as MLBPipeline.com's No. 1 outfield prospect. But is he baseball's top overall prospect?
A star athlete who was the Ohio state Division III baseball and basketball player of the year as a senior at Madeira High, Benintendi was beset by injuries as a freshman and hit just one home run. He broke out as a sophomore in 2015, however, when he took home USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award and every major college player of the year award, led NCAA Division I with 20 homers while batting .376/.488/.717 with 24 steals, and carried the Razorbacks to the College World Series.
The Red Sox viewed Benintendi -- a draft-eligible sophomore because he turned 21 within 45 days of the Draft -- as the second-best player available and were thrilled to find him still on the board with the No. 7 pick.
After signing for $3,590,400, Benintendi breezed through four levels of Boston's system, ultimately skipping over Triple-A Pawtucket en route to Fenway Park. He required just 34 games at Class A Advanced Salem last season before moving up to Double-A Portland, where he produced a .295/.357/.515 batting line in 63 contests.
All together, Benintendi owns a .312/.392/.540 slash line with 20 homers and 26 steals in 151 Minor League games, with more extra-base hits and walks (74 each) than strikeouts (63).
Beyond his production, Benintendi stands out for his exceptional all-around tools -- which many scouts considered to be the best among college players in the 2015 Draft -- and he has no glaring weakness in his game.
At the plate, Benintendi has a smooth left-handed swing, an advanced feel for the strike zone and surprising pop for a 5-foot-10, 170-pounder. He batted either eighth or ninth in all but two of his games with Boston last season, though his deep offensive skillset could have him hitting toward the top or in the heart of the team's order in the coming years.
Red Sox manager John Farrell limited Benintendi's playing time against left-handed pitchers in the big leagues, and he batted just .179 with no extra-base hits in 28 at-bats against them as a result. However, Benintendi had little issue hitting southpaws in Minors, batting .314 in 121 at-bats, and should produce similar results with Boston as he continues to gain experience.
Benintendi has plus speed and good instincts on the bases and in the outfield. After playing nowhere but center field at the outset of his pro career, Benintendi was shifted to left (in deference to Jackie Bradley Jr. in center) upon reaching the big leagues. He made one of better catches by an outfielder of 2016 against Tampa Bay on Aug. 22, when he nearly fell over the wall down the left-field line while robbing Steven Souza Jr. of a home run in the eighth inning of game in which the Red Sox held a three-run lead.
It was during that same series in St. Petersburg that Benintendi sprained his left knee while trying to get back to second base, casting doubt on the remainder of this season. Luckily, the injury appeared worse than it ultimately was, and Benintendi was able to return to the field in mid September.
Benintendi appeared destined to exhaust his prospect status last season before landing on the 15-day disabled list. Instead, he has retained rookie eligibility for 2017 and is widely viewed as an early favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Should he do so, Benintendi would become the first Red Sox player to win the award since Dustin Pedroia in 2007.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.