Andrew Benintendi’s sophomore year was supposed to represent a steppingstone to a standout junior year that would make him an early selection in the 2016 draft. The 20-year-old skipped a step.
The Red Sox tabbed Benintendi, a lefthanded-hitting outfielder at the University of Arkansas, with the seventh overall selection in Monday’s first round of the MLB amateur draft.
Benintendi had a monster sophomore campaign that vaulted him near the top of the draft.
Though listed at 5 feet 10 inches and 175 pounds, Benintendi added 15 pounds of muscle between his freshman and sophomore seasons and returned as a five-tool force.
Benintendi held his own as a freshman, hitting .278 with a .368 OBP, .333 slugging mark, one homer, and 10 extra-base hits. But when he returned as a sophomore, his strength gains — as well as a return to full health following wrist and hamstring injuries in his freshman year — set in motion a dazzling season.
“The leap that Andrew made is a little bit unusual,” said Sox amateur scouting director Mike Rikard. “Not many guys make that type of stride from their freshman year to their sophomore year.”
Benintendi hit .380 this season with a .489 OBP and .715 slugging mark while leading Division 1 in homers (19) and swiping 23 bases in 27 attempts. He was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year — ahead of shortstops Dansby Swanson of Vanderbilt and Alex Bregman of LSU, the top two picks in the draft — and proved the key figure in vaulting Arkansas to the College World Series.
His emergence forced scouts to scramble in an effort to gauge a player who hadn’t been prominent in their coverage plans at the start of the year.
“It got crazy. It got crazy. He handled it pretty well. I think the only time it bothered him a little bit was the SEC tournament, because it got ridiculous,” said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. “We’d be over taking batting practice at a high school down the road and all the scouts would leave the stadium. There’d be a game going on but they’d come down to watch him take batting practice. He got done and they’d leave. There’d be 30 of them.”
The Sox, of course, were almost surely represented, with area scout Chris Mears serving as point man for their efforts. The Sox came to view Benintendi as a well-rounded player with top-of-the-order potential who can play center field.
“He’s good at a lot of things. He’s not just a good hitter,” said Van Horn. “He’s got some power. He’s an outstanding baserunner. He has a really good feel on the bases for stealing bases. He’s very fast. He’s an outstanding defender. He’s got a strong arm and it’s accurate. He’s got a lot of tools. I think he’ll move quick through the minor leagues. He just has a lot of baseball instincts. He’s a great player.”
That combination made Benintendi a clear choice, according to Sox general manager Ben Cherington.
“He’s someone who’s always played at the highest level of competition available to him. Putting that together with his performance, his physical skills, getting to know him as a person as we were able to do this spring, you put it all together and when it came time for our pick at 7, he was the top player on our board,” said Cherington. “It was obvious who we were taking. We were really excited to take him.”
The sentiment was reciprocated by Benintendi. The Cincinnati native said that he grew up as a Red Sox fan, having found inspiration in a fellow undersized player in Dustin Pedroia. Now, he can look forward to the opportunity to call Pedroia his teammate when he makes his first visit to Fenway Park.
“[Pedroia’s] obviously not the biggest guy, but the way he competes and the way he works is motivating to me,” said Benintendi. “Being picked was extremely exciting. I put in a lot of hard work to this point and there’s a lot more work to do but I’m extremely excited. It’ll be exciting to start.”
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Boston College junior first baseman Chris Shaw was selected by the San Francisco Giants at No. 31 overall, a compensation pick at the end of the first round.
Shaw, a former standout at Lexington High, led BC with a .311 average this spring. He also had 11 home runs, 43 RBIs, and a .611 slugging percentage.