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August 2, 2016 at 3:42 AM

Transaction Analysis: Breaking down the Andrew Benintendi call-up

The Red Sox will purchase the contract of outfielder Andrew Benintendi on Tuesday, the number two prospect in the most recent SoxProspects .com rankings. The news was first reported by Will Carroll. Per Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald, Benintendi will join the Red Sox in Seattle tomorrow, a report that was confirmed by Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe.

It has been a meteoric rise to the major leagues for Benintendi, the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft. His star really began to rise in 2015. Benintendi was not regarded as a potential top pick heading into the college season, but a dominant spring for the Arkansas Razorbacks earned him recognition as the consensus collegiate player of the year, winning four such honors including the Golden Spikes Award, and rocketed him up the draft boards. He did not miss a beat after signing, hitting .313/.416/.556 between Lowell and Greenville in his professional debut.

Assigned to High A Salem out of spring training this season, Benintendi got off to a sensational start, hitting .341/.413/.563 with 13 doubles and seven triples, earning a promotion to Double-A Portland after only 34 games. The Eastern League initially proved to be more of a challenge to Benintendi, as he went 5 for his first 29 and 10 for his first 51. An adjustment came quickly, however—over his last 50 games, Benintendi has produced a .323/.389/.586 slash line, closing the book on his Portland career with an 11-for-23 surge. Overall, across the two levels, Benintendi has hit .312/.378/.532 in 97 games, with 31 doubles, 12 triples, nine home runs, and 16 stolen bases. His stock has continued to rise in a meteoric fashion, as he ranked no lower than 11th in midseason top prospect lists from MLB.com, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN.com's Keith Law.

A center fielder in college and for the first year-plus of his professional career, Benintendi recently began playing some left field, lining up with the need at the major league level. He made his debut in left, in front of Hadlock Field's Green Monster, on July 22, with four of his final nine starts in the minors coming in left field.

It has been a long time since the Red Sox had a position player reach the majors only a season after being drafted. The most recent occurrence was when the Red Sox called up 1973 second-round pick Fred Lynn in September of 1974.  Lynn was outstanding in 15 games that fall before winning the Most Valuable Player award the following year. 

One major reason Benintendi was able to ascend more quickly than previous Red Sox prospects is that has the type of talent and pedigree the team rarely has the chance to draft. Only the sixth-ever top-ten pick by the Red Sox, Benintendi was the first taken out of college. Once he officially makes his debut, he will become the fourth player selected in the 2015 draft to make his MLB debut, joining Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros (2nd overall pick), Carson Fulmer of the Chicago White Sox (8th pick), and Koda Glover of the Washington Nationals (8th round, 254th pick).

In calling up Andrew Benintendi after only 63 games in Double-A, the Red Sox clearly see him as an upgrade over what they have in left field right now, at least hitting from the left side. Red Sox left fielders have put up a .258/.324/.397 triple slash this year, so Benintendi doesn’t have to hit much to prove an upgrade over that.

The first thing that stands out with Benintendi is his size. He is listed at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, but is likely closer to 5-foot-8. He does not have a prototypical ballplayer's frame, but even with his size, he is sneaky strong and a solid athlete. Due to his height, he does not have much projection left, but he could still fill out some as he physically matures given that he just turned 22 last month.

At the plate, Benintendi hits from a vertical, open stance. He is quiet pre-pitch and has simple swing mechanics, utilizing a short, quick leg lift. Benintendi has solid separation in his swing and does a good job staying inside the baseball. He has a short, compact swing and is very direct to the ball, with superior bat control and hand-eye coordination (see video below from the SoxProspects YouTube Page). He has strong wrists and forearms, quick hands, and plus bat speed. Benintendi is also very polished at the plate with a superior knowledge of the strike zone, advanced pitch recognition, and a solid two-strike approach. He will still get caught out in front of breaking balls at times, but for the most part he can handle spin, rarely strikes out, and has minimal swing-and-miss in his game. Benintendi has already shown an all-fields approach, though most of his hard contact is to the pull side. He also does not show any meaningful platoon split and has actually hit better against left-handers this year, albeit in only 91 plate appearances. Benintendi has the potential to have a plus hit tool in his peak, capable of hitting in the .275-.294 range.

Given his physical profile, you would not expect Benintendi to be a power threat, but he has surprising power for his size, showing plus raw power. He likes to clear his hips through with a slight uppercut and leverage and loft in his swing. As a result, he currently shows most of his power to the pull side; this year, eight of his nine home runs have gone to right field. In batting practice during scouting looks, he struggled somewhat to get the loft and drive the ball with the same effect when going the opposite way. Given the success left-handed hitters who can use all fields can have at Fenway Park with the short porch in left, this is an area Benintendi will likely look to improve on at the big league level. Though he has plus raw power in game action, his power projects to play closer to average, hitting 15-19 home runs a year. In his peak, however, he could have a few years with 20-plus home runs, while at least early in his career it would not be a surprise if he did not show as much over-the-fence power, rather racking up a lot of doubles and triples.

Benintendi is not a burner, but he will show solid-average speed and will be able to steal a handful of bases due to his great instincts. He is very smart when on base and knows what to do in a given situation. Once he gets going he can move and go from first to third on singles with ease.

Defensively, Benintendi does not project to have a glove to match the likes of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, which is why he is destined for left field for now. He could play a solid-average center field, but his arm profiles better in left field, especially with the Green Monster limiting the length of the throws he will have to make. Benintendi has a quick first step, but has had some trouble with reads and routes in Portland both when playing center and left. He generally still makes the play, however, able to overcome the occasional poor read due to his athleticism and body control. He moves well to either side and shows the ability to cover ground into the alleys when playing center, allowing him to cover a fair amount of ground even though he is not the fastest player. I had the chance to see Benintendi play left field last week and he made most of the plays required of him, but he did show some hesitancy when he got close to Portland's own replica Green Monster on one occasion. He seemed to take his eye off the ball in order to find the wall, thinking he was closer to the wall than he was, and as a result he misjudged the ball, allowing it to land on the warning track for a double.

Benintendi’s arm grades out at average at best and maybe even a tick below that. He is on target generally, but his throws lack carry and zip. These issues will be minimized in left field, so it is not much of a long-term issue, and if need be he has the arm strength to be passable in center and right field as well.

One area that beyond the tools that merits mention is Benintendi’s makeup, which from all reports is elite. He is an extremely hard worker and has all the intangibles you would want in a ballplayer. He leaves it all out on the field and plays heady, always looking to take the extra base, and competes.

Benintendi has struggled initially on occasion—in Lowell and Portland in particular—during his otherwise rapid rise through the system, but has shown the willingness to put the work in and ability to quickly make the necessary adjustments to succeed. As a result, it would not be a surprise if he struggled somewhat upon his initial exposure to big league pitching before making an adjustment after a few weeks. This year, you can expect Benintendi to put together professional at-bats and hit for some average with a high on-base percentage and low strikeout totals. His over-the-fence power might not show much right away, though he will still get a handful of extra-base hits. Long-term, Benintendi has the potential to be a role six, quality everyday player who will even make a few All-Star teams, hitting near the top of the major league order. He does not have quite the upside of guys like Betts, Xander Bogaerts, or even his Portland teammate before today, Yoan Moncada, but he gets the most of out what he is, and even if he does not reach his potential, he should still be a true, major league, everyday player. Given the poor production the Red Sox have received from the left field position at the plate this year, Benintendi represents an upgrade there already. Reportedly, he will platoon with Bryce Brentz, then Chris Young when he returns from injury, freeing up Brock Holt to return to the utility role in which he is much more valuable to the team. The Red Sox may not have acquired a left fielder at the trade deadline, but in calling up Benintendi, they may have found someone who could provide similar value to the guys who were dealt at no cost.

Photo credits: Andrew Benintendi by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.

Senior Staff Writer James Dunne contributed to this column.