MINNEAPOLIS — I’ve resisted the temptation to anoint Andrew Benintendi the next Fred Lynn, but I’m wavering.
I watched Fred Lynn in 1975 and he was spectacular. He won Rookie of the Year. He won MVP. He covered center field like a gazelle and ran the bases like one as well. While it’s easy to assign similarities between the two, please let Benintendi hit .331 with 21 homers, 105 RBIs, 103 runs, and a .967 OPS along with a Gold Glove, Lynn’s 1975 rookie production, before we go all the way in that direction.
When Cubs manager Joe Maddon calls him “Fred Lynn reincarnated,” I cringe a little bit because it’s too early to go that far. You could say, yes, he reminds you of Lynn because of this and that. He’s a lefthanded hitter, he plays for the Red Sox, he’s off to a great start in his rookie season.
Then you watch him every day and you start thinking, could he be better than Lynn? He’s already had a five-hit game. In the Red Sox’ revamped lineup Saturday, Benintendi batted cleanup. He doubled in two runs in Boston’s eight-run second inning when he steered a pitch down the left-field line. He’s not the easiest guy to pitch to because he’s got those fast hands like Mookie Betts, so trying to jam him is almost futile, or trying to pound him hard and down in the zone doesn’t work very well, either.
Benintendi batted cleanup for the first time in his major league career in Boston’s 11-1 win over the Twins and had three hits and two RBIs.
“I’m not the prototypical cleanup hitter, but I just try not to change anything about the way I approach it,” Benintendi said. “It was a fun day for us, just being able to score some runs for Rick [Porcello] and coming out with a win.”
What kid this age hits changeups for home runs? That comes later in one’s career, but it’s arrived with Benintendi already.
He’s very much accepted as a budding superstar by his teammates. There’s no “wait and see” among them. There’s no coddling of the young kid by manager John Farrell. He trusted his talent enough to bat him second from the get-go. There was little breaking-in time. It was, ‘Hey, Andrew, go be a superstar.’ ”
He probably won’t win the MVP like Lynn did in 1975 but he’s got a great chance of winning Rookie of the Year in the American League.
So, with all of this Fred Lynn talk, I called Lynn and asked him what he thought.
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen enough him to have a strong opinion about it,” said Lynn from his San Diego home. “I was up in Boston in the luxury suites earlier this year and got to watch him a bit and I’ll say this, he’s a very impressive-looking player.
“As far as comparisons to me, our swings are completely different. He’s got a very short, compact swing and he’s very tight with his arms and I had a long, fluid swing. Like most of the hitters now, they wait for the ball to come into them, where when I played I was out in front of the ball. He’s now playing mostly left field where I played center field,” Lynn said.
Asked if he were flattered that such a good young player was being compared to him, Lynn kidded, “As long as he’s hitting .330.”
The 65-year-old Lynn played seven of his 17 seasons with the Red Sox, and he won the batting title in 1979 (.333). He hit 306 career homers, knocked in 1,111 runs, hit .283 over his career with an .845 OPS. He made nine All-Star teams, won four Gold Gloves. He was part of the famous “Gold Dust Twins” with fellow rookie Jim Rice.
It’s often said that if Lynn had played a full career in Boston he’d be in the Hall of Fame because his beautiful swing was so suited for Fenway.
Benintendi’s swing has also been described as “beautiful” and “pretty.” He also plays with other fine young players in the Red Sox outfield in Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. But whether he’s Fred Lynn reincarnated as Maddon dubbed him, or not, Benintendi’s lefthanded stroke has conjured up those comparisons.
Through the Red Sox’ first 30 games in 1975, Lynn batted .319 with 4 homers, 16 RBIs, and 8 doubles. He had three three-hit games. Thirty games into the 2017 season, Benintendi is hitting .319 with four homers and 18 RBIs. He’s had four three-hit games (including Saturday) and one five-hit game.
But there are differences.
Benintendi is from Cincinnati, Lynn from Los Angeles.
Benintendi attended Arkansas and Lynn Southern California.
Benintendi is listed at 5 feet 10 inches, 170 pounds, and Lynn was 6-1, 185.
Benintendi wears No. 16 and Lynn wore 19.
While Lynn has watched Benintendi play, Benintendi never saw Lynn play.
“I did get to meet him on the last homestand when he was there for something,” Benintendi said. “I’d like to watch some video of him because I’ve heard so much about him and people saying I’m like him. I know all about him and the incredible year he had as a rookie with the Red Sox. It’s kind of neat to be compared to someone like that.”
And nobody’s stopping the comparisons. Some of us are just putting on the brakes a little bit, but we’re not far from full throttle.