Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox #2 overall prospect, made his major league debut a week ago today. In between boiling hot dogs and painting bathrooms, I had the opportunity to watch Benintendi make his minor league debut in early July of last summer in Low-A Lowell. It was impressive. On a team full of prototypical 6’4” 220 pounders , the 5’10” 170lb Benintendi easily showed the most power on the team, posting a .948 OPS in 124 at bats. In August, he was promoted to Mid-A Greenville and his successes continued in the form of a 1.011 OPS in 74 at bats. Benintendi started 2016 in High-A Salem and continued to hit– to the tune of a .976 OPS. In May he made the jump to AA Portland. After posting a very un-Benintendi like .537 OPS through his first 15 games, he wound up reaching .872 by his call-up in early August.
There are a couple of things that stand out when examining Benintendi’s body of work thus far. One being how quickly he ascended the minor league ranks. Drafted 7th overall in 2015, Benintendi accumulated 570 at bats in the minors (roughly equal to one MLB season), before making it to The Show.
Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto are two other names in recent memory who, like Benintendi, made it from draft day to the majors in about a year. Both were drafted in the first round of 2014 and made their MLB debut in the summer of 2015. It’s actually crazy how similarly both their careers began. Schwarber’s MLB career began in June of 2015. He had a .842 OPS and 130 OPS+ in 273 PA from June to the end of the regular season. Conforto debuted in July of 2015 and had a .841 OPS and 129 OPS+ in the same time frame.
While the two haven’t been the same in 2016 (Conforto’s been plagued by the sophomore-slump and Schwarber had a season-ending injury during the first week of April), both should have above-average major league careers.
The second thing that stands out about Benintendi is his GB/FB ratio– which was .58 for his minor league career. In other words, he hit about two fly balls for every one ground ball. This is quite a bit different from the major league average of 1.33. Another young player that stands out as a extreme fly-ball hitter is Kris Bryant. When asked about his hitting philosophy in a NY Times article last season, Bryant said this,
“My goal every game is to go out there and hit the ball in the air four times,” Kris Bryant said. “If I do that, I’m accomplishing my goal.”
And then this,
“Pitchers throw the ball on a downhill plane, so hitters must swing up to meet it squarely. Swinging down on the ball, or even with it, produces ground balls. Pitchers want those. Hitters want home runs.”
Bryant had .65 GB/FB ratio as a minor leaguer and has a .70 ratio in two seasons as a major leaguer, which ranks as the 7th lowest in MLB during that time span. Considering Bryant’s talent level and production thus far, it’s safe to say that this fly-ball-or-bust philosophy is working.
Only time will tell if Benintendi is bound for stardom. But if recent quick risers through the minors or a fly-ball heavy GB/FB ratio are any indication, Benintendi should have a pretty solid first few seasons.