Saturday, June 6, 2015

2015 Draft Prospect: Andrew Benintendi, cf

Andrew Benintendi
University of Arkansas
Sophomore (Draft Eligible)
5-10; 170 lbs
B/T: L/L

Andrew Benintendi is something of a pop-up player in the 2015 draft. He wasn't on the radar of a lot of organizations early in the season because many didn't realize that he was draft eligible. Most college sophomores are not, but Benintendi, by virtue of turning 21 within 40 days of the draft date, does qualify. Benintendi hit his way into the scouting collective conscience with a video game like 2015 season.

For the Razorbacks, to date, Benintendi has hit .391/.496/.735/1.231 with 13 doubles, 19 homers, and a stellar 30/45 K/BB ratio. Oh, and he also swiped 23 bases in 27 attempts while playing a stellar centerfield. He's playing a premier defensive position, hitting for average, hitting for power, flashing speed, and controlling the strike zone. He's ticking a lot of boxes and it earned him the 2015 SEC Player of the Year award, as he led the SEC in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and home runs.

Given that he won't turn 21 until after the draft, he's also going to be one of the very youngest college players drafted, which matters far more than you would expect for development purposes. At least it applies to hitters, if two players are facing identical competition and putting up identical performance levels, but one is 7 months younger than the other, then the younger player is the better bet for the future. So, Benintendi's draft stock gets a small boost there.

Benintendi is from Cincinnati, attended Madeira High School, and was previously drafted by the Reds in the 2013 MLB draft (31st round). Benintendi holds the Ohio high school career record for runs scored with 199, ranks second in hits with 213, 5th with 166 RBI, eighth with a .542 batting average, and 12th with 112 steals. Clearly, Benintendi has be long been on the radar of the Reds, which should give them a better feel for Benintendi than most (or all) other organizations.

The consensus from the pundit community is that Benintendi is a lock to be a top 20 pick and there is a very high probability that he goes inside the top 10. If that happens, then the Reds, who hold the 11th pick, will have no shot at him.

The lingering concerns on Benintendi are two fold. First, as a pop-up draft eligible sophomore, he doesn't have a very long track record. Second, scouts are concerned about his physical stature and whether he can generate sufficient leverage with his swing when he switches to wood bats.

Here's a look at Benintendi in action, courtesy of FanGraphs on YouTube:

At the plate, Benintendi gets into all the proper positions, at the proper times, necessary for top level hitting. He uses a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance and a small bat waggle. To trigger the weight transfer, he uses a decent length stride and does a nice job of loading into the back hip. That allows him to generate and unleash substantial force through the firing of the hips. He drops the hands into the slot, allowing the back shoulder to deliver the swing to the ball. He firms up the front side, giving him a strong foundation around which the generated force can rotate. He maintains control of the generated force throughout and has strong balance throughout the swing.

Overall, Benintendi's swing is fluid, powerful, and controlled. It's a beautiful swing and when paired with quick hands/wrists, strong pitch recognition, and a disciplined approach, the resulting production is no surprise or fluke. His swing mechanics, when paired with good pitch recognition and hand-eye coordination, allow him to make consistent, hard contact, to get the barrel on the ball. His hand speed, when paired with the rotational force generated by his swing, allows him to hit for legitimate power.

Here are some Benintendi highlights, courtesy of ArkansasRazorbacks on YouTube, to help you get a feel for his game:

If you watch his highlights, it's readily apparent that he's fast, moves well, and has very good athleticism. If you watch him play, his pitch recognition and plate discipline are evident. He doesn't chase very often and seems to quickly and easily dismiss pitches outside of his hitting zone.

In short, I like Andrew Benintendi's game a great deal. He does everything well and does it from a premier defensive position. The concerns about his game as less about evident flaws and more about unanswered questions. That's what you look for at the top of the draft, players with fewer and smaller evident flaws. Will his shorter levers allow him to hit for power with a wood bat? Maybe yes, maybe no. The fact that he hasn't done it yet may be more of an evaluation problem for scouts than a performance problem for Benintendi. Time will tell.

Not only do I, in a vacuum, like Benintendi's overall game, but he's also a perfect fit for the Reds. The Reds are currently sucking their last gasp of fresh air before submerging for the final time. The rebuild/retool is coming, whether they want it or not. If they do it right, then it could be a quick turnaround. For me, one of the main goals of player acquisition this year would be adding disciplined hitters. Hitters who don't chase and flail at bad pitches. Hitters who control the strike zone. Hitters with good hit tools. That would be my targeted return in trade for Cueto, Chapman, Leake, and Frazier. And, that profile would be my target in the draft. The organization should come away from the draft with 2 or 3 hitters who fit this profile in the top 5 rounds.

Benintendi fits that profile perfectly. A plus hit tool and the ability to control the strike zone. And, he has youth on his side and he's a legitimate defensive centerfielder. He's a very intriguing player. I don't typically throw out MLB comparisons for players, because they are rarely that fair or accurate and expectations can be a powerful thing. That said, I can't help but think Mark Kotsay when I see Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi could outperform Kotsay (i.e. maybe a better hit tool or better control of the strike zone), but it would be difficult to be disappointed with a Kotsay like career.

To make a long story short, Andrew Benintendi is at, or near, the top of my short list for the Reds with the 11th overall pick in the 2015 draft.

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