It’s not supposed to work this way — not in this era.
Young players aren’t supposed to all but bypass the minor leagues, start hitting upon their first exposure to the big leagues, and then sustain their production as the league begins to dissect their weaknesses. Even Mike Trout endured an adjustment period in the big leagues (granted, when he was still a teenager) as a 2011 call-up.
But in a time when stuff is as overpowering as baseball has ever featured, when scouting reports are more sophisticated than ever, teams have yet to discover the secret of how to get Andrew Benintendi out.
Through his first 30 contests of 2017, opponents have tried nearly everything, to no avail.
Fastballs? Nope: Against four-seam fastballs of 95 miles per hour or greater, Benintendi is 3 for 8 with three walks and two homers (including a 437-foot launch Sunday against Twins starter Ervin Santana’s 95 m.p.h. heater). The previous weekend, he went deep against a John Lackey two-seamer with a 423-foot blast.
Breaking balls? He has a .333 average against sliders and curveballs.
Splitters? Not yet; he’s 3 for 8 against those. Cutters? In a small sample, he’s 2 for 4.
Changeups? That was the pitch that had given Benintendi the most trouble in the early stages of this season — a fact that made his blast to straightaway center field on an elevated Phil Hughes changeup so terrifying for teams trying to identify his weaknesses.
It seems hard to imagine for a 22-year-old with a whopping 253 plate appearances in the big leagues, but Benintendi may be the Red Sox hitter who presents opponents with the greatest game-planning challenge, a player capable not only of getting to every kind of pitch but who can also do damage to them — a fact that has already put him in rare company.
The Red Sox moved Benintendi to the cleanup spot Saturday. In the final two games of the weekend, after manager John Farrell moved the rookie from second to fourth in the lineup, he went 5 for 10 with a pair of doubles, a homer, two walks, and no strikeouts, improving his line for the season to a robust .325/.385/.500 line with 5 homers and 20 RBIs.
He’s the first Red Sox player age 22 or younger with multiple games as cleanup hitter since Jim Rice in 1975. While there may eventually prove a change in fortunes, for now Benintendi has yet to blink in the face of anything he’s seen, demonstrating uncommon calm in combination with uncommon talent.