Unless you're living under a rock, you're probably quite familiar with the young and towering figure that makes his home in Yankee Stadium's right field. You probably also know about the kid playing the Green Monster in Fenway.
New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and Boston Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi are both outstanding players in their own right. However, while one gets by on ridiculous power, the other does everything well, if not spectacularly (yet).
Judge has obliterated numerous records for offensive output by a rookie this year. The long and short of it is, he's got one of the most powerful bats in all of MLB. He leads the AL with 50 homers (an all-time record for homers by a rookie), he's drawn 122 walks, driven in 109 runs, scored 143 runs, and he's been on base a league-leading 277 times.
Of course, the fleas come with the dog; Judge has also gone down on strikes an abysmal 204 times, making Judge a prototypical Three True Outcome player.
He's a very large individual (6'7”, 282) and has never been especially fast or covered a great deal of ground in the outfield. He's got a pretty good arm, certainly enough for right field, but his only other “plus” tool besides his arm strength is (obviously) his power.
Of course, that one tool on its own is so significant that it makes Judge the sort of player who will challenge for numerous HR crowns and finish high in the AL MVP voting for years to come. With all the talk about “juiced balls” aside, Judge's power would play in any era. Even balls that appear at first to be long fouls end up carrying five rows into the outfield seats; Judge has a 51.2% fly-ball rate, and 18.2% of the fly balls he has hit ended up leaving the field in a hurry.
So I could talk on and on about Judge's prodigious pop, but everyone knows about that. But I'm really here to talk about Andrew Benintendi and how he holds up under the “eye test.”
I've seen the metrics; I've read all the stats, percentages, spray charts, exit velocity, etc, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. I know he's not necessarily shown himself to be a Gold-Glove-level fielder. I know he doesn't have the demigod-like power of the Cloverfield Monster roaming the green, green grass of Yankee Stadium.
But I gotta say....Benintendi just “looks” like a ballplayer. That's code for “this kid does everything well.”
It's true, he does.
Despite the defensive metrics, Benintendi flags down every ball he should get to and has even made a few outstanding plays in the process. For someone who has had less-than-steller reviews on arm strength, he tallied eleven assists working primarily in left field.
He's also made five errors (three fielding, two throwing), which is not ideal. One could chalk that up to learning the ins and outs of ML ball, because while he's not a top-flight fielder, he likely will improve to the point that he'll be consistently solid and (at times) give you a SportsCenter highlight.
At the plate, we have yet to see all that Benintendi can offer. He did quite well in his brief layover at short-season Lowell (35 games, two doubles, four triples, seven homers, 15 RBI, 15 steals, .290 BA, .948 OPS), then terrorized South Atlantic League pitchers for a mere 19 games (16 RBI, .351 BA). In 2016, he picked up where he left off offensively, only with High-A Salem (34 games, 21 XBH, 32 RBI, .341 BA) and didn't really skip a beat on his move up to Double-A Portland (31 XBH in 63 games, 44 RBI, .295 BA).
At that point, the Red Sox had seen enough; Benintendi made his MLB debut on August 2nd at Seattle. In 34 games in the majors last year, he had 10 multi-hit games and finished the season with a .295 average and an .835 OPS, both harbingers of better things to come.
This season has given us an idea of what Benintendi can do, but his peak lies somewhat higher. While he batted .273, increased his walk percentage by 2.3% (up to 10.8% from 2016) and decreased his K percentage at the same time (21.2% in 2016, 16.6% in 2017), he also posted 20 homers and 20 steals, becoming the youngest LF since Barry Bonds to do so, while driving in 90 runs. Not outstanding numbers, right?
This is where it's important to keep in mind the following:
1.Benintendi was drafted out of college ball only two years ago, just a month shy of his 21st birthday.
2.He spent only 151 games in the minors before he made his MLB debut.
3.He has played only 184 games in the big leagues.
So we have a 23 year-old outfielder who grades out above average in all five categories (batting is a 65, at least), whose current hitting skills already makes him an ideal fit as a #2 hitter, with an instinctual sense for the game beyond his years, and who has fit into a star-studded lineup without missing a beat.
He got great reviews for his makeup and consistency, he shows very good pitch recognition, and he's only going to get better from here. As I said, if you've seen him on the field, you might agree: he just “looks” like a ballplayer.
While I try never to get too high or too low on a young player, it's pretty hard to do that with Benintendi. As it appears now, there's reason to expect him to blossom into a perennial All-Star-level hitter who will likely rack up 60-70 extra-base hits per year, with 15-20 steals, a ton of runs scored, high on-base percentages and yearly OPS totals above .800 with little difficulty.
He seems, to me, to be one of the most complete players in the league already, and he's only going to keep learning.
Benintendi won't have the power of Judge, but he will probably be a lot more consistent than the hulking slugger, given the nature of home-run hitters and the ups and downs they often bring with them.
Will he be better than Judge? I guess that depends on your point of view, how you measure that sort of thing. But for my money, give me a lineup full of Benintendis, every day of the week.