For the Boston Red Sox, it’s no secret the 2013 season has a very significant meaning. We have the tragic April 15th marathon bombing which left a whole city, and a nation, in terror. Then we have the triumph over tragedy, when we witnessed Daniel Nava’s go-ahead home run against Kansas City as well as Jonny Gomes ripping a double to left then proceeding to flex on while standing on base helping to jumpstart the healing process of ‘Boston Strong.’ Koji emerging out of nowhere as a dominant closer, David Ortiz’ speech that let us all know whose city this is, his grand slam in the American League Championship Series and putting the final touches on a brilliant season with a strikeout of Matt Carpenter was something that seemed more fit for a fairy tale.
But what may have eluded Boston during that 2013 season was that their number two prospect, Andrew Benintendi was drafted in the 31st round out of Madeira High School in Ohio. Benintendi elected to further his education as well as his amateur athletic career at the University of Arkansas. There, Benintendi blossomed into something special. While slashing .326/.431/.525 with 21 homers, 84 RBIs and 41 stolen bags in 49 attempts, Benintendi quickly became the talk of the town. Taking home the 2015 Golden Spikes award, given to the best college player in the nation, Benintendi got the Red Sox’ attention.
Seven picks into the 2015 Draft, Benintendi heard his name called. A couple phone calls, a negotiation and $3,590,400 later, the former Razorback was officially a part of the Boston Red Sox organization. Equipped with raw power, average defensive abilities, an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and speed, Benintendi was expected to be the center fielder of the future. But, along came Mookie Betts, who was selected to start in the All-Star game this past week and played a spectacular center field in 2015 with tremendous power and speed. Then, Jackie Bradley Jr.’s glove pushed Betts over to right field for the 2016 season.
So, where does that leave Benintendi? Once he gets over the learning curve at Double-A Portland — where he’s currently hitting .277/.342/.475 — he should be major-league ready. So how long is this learning curve going to take? That varies from player to player, but Benintendi is showing improvements at the plate as of late with nine multi-hit games in his last fifteen competitions.
With injuries to Brock Holt, Blake Swihart, Chris Young, and Ryan LaMarre, the Red Sox are left with little depth in left field right now. Outfielder Bryce Brentz was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket to be the everyday starting left fielder until Brock Holt got back. As we’ve seen the Red Sox do before, they are going to overplay Brock Holt and he will once again, for the third season in a row, be exposed and fatigued during the second half.
Benintendi could absolutely help this club this season as early as next month. Once that learning curve is hurdled, who knows where he could wind up. But the Red Sox need to start grooming him for that left field in Fenway Park now. Not in the offseason — now. His profile fits a left fielder for Fenway Park, and with Betts and Bradley playing in the same outfield Benintendi’s defensive prowess can stay as it is. For what it’s worth, he started his first game in left field last night for Double-A Portland.
This move would also give the Red Sox an opportunity to fix what they severely damaged in Blake Swihart while trying to convert him from a catcher to and everyday left fielder. Moving Benintendi to left field would allow the team to not rush Swihart back to the position, but ease him back into where he has the most value: being a 24-year-old, switch-hitting catcher with developing defensive skills and an eagerness to absorb the league.
Could the Red Sox be hesitant to move Benintendi from center field in fear of stunting his development? Sure they could, but we’ve seen it done before. We’ve seen player not only convert to, but excel at a new position that is introduced to them. Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals was supposed to be the next George Brett, but is now a perennial All-Star roaming left field. Right here in our own backyard, Mookie Betts was supposed to be a great second baseman; he’s an even better right fielder. Benintendi will get his shot, and will be more than deserving of one. But for now, he’s stuck in Double-A, waiting his turn to be the next great converted prospect.