Are the Boston Red Sox rushing Andrew Benintendi?

Jun 13, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks outfielder Andrew Benintendi (16) hits a sacrifice RBI against the Virginia Cavaliers in the third inning in the 2015 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks outfielder Andrew Benintendi (16) hits a sacrifice RBI against the Virginia Cavaliers in the third inning in the 2015 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have promoted top outfield prospect Andrew Benintendi, but is he ready for the big leagues?

Let the Andrew Benintendi era begin.

The young outfield phenom is making the jump from Portland to Boston, taking a short cut to the majors that alludes the typical path through Pawtucket, where the Triple-A affiliate of the Red Sox resides. With a limited resume of minor league experience, the question has to be asked if Benintendi is ready for this stage.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said as recently as a few short weeks ago that he wouldn’t hesitate to bring up a player straight from Double-A. He explained his philosophy is that the Triple-A level isn’t necessary for good players, so if they have performed well in Double-A then that can be sufficient to earn a spot on the big league roster. While he admits that every player is different and this statement may not apply in all cases, Benintendi certainly fits the bill for what Dombrowski looks for in determining whether or not to fast-track a player to the majors.

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The No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft certainly has the pedigree, but now he’s added the production to back it up. After hitting a blistering .341 with a .976 OPS in 34 games for High-A Salem, Benintendi continued to swing a hot stick following his promotion to Portland, where he hit .297 with an .872 OPS in 63 games.

Apparently that was enough to convince the Red Sox that he’s ready to come to Boston, but will the promotion prove to be too much, too soon?

The Red Sox lineup is currently anchored by a pair of budding superstars that made their debuts at an earlier age than the 22-year old Benintendi is now. What can the paths taken by Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts tell us about top prospects that are pushed to the majors at a young age?

Betts skyrocketed through the Red Sox farm system. He started the 2014 season in Portland, where he destroyed Double-A pitching to the tune of a .355 average and .994 OPS. He continued on this tear through a brief pit stop in Pawtucket before forcing his way to Boston by the end of June at the age of 21. The accelerated path did little to slow Betts down, as he hit .291 with an. 812 OPS in 52 games in his first taste of the big leagues.

Bogaerts was even younger when he was first called up, making his major league debut in August 2013 at the age of 20. He had a more modest opening act to his career, hitting .250 with a .684 OPS in 18 games to finish the season, but he performed well enough to earn a spot on the postseason roster. Bogaerts shined under the bright lights of the October stage on his way to winning a World Series ring with the Red Sox.

Now the team is hoping Benintendi can do the same, but is that realistic?

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Yes, Betts and Bogaerts were both younger than Benintendi when they first came up, but they also had significantly more minor league experience. Benintendi only has 657 plate appearances under his belt since being drafted last June. Betts had over 1300 plate appearances in the minors since his pro career started in Lowell back in 2012, 464 of which came in time split between Portland and Pawtucket. Bogaerts also had over 1300 plate appearances in the minors, about half of which came in AA or AAA. That doesn’t even include the 280 trips to the plate he made while starring in the Dominican Summer League as a 17-year old in 2010.

That’s significantly more experience in the upper levels of the minors than the 263 plate appearances Benintendi has in Portland. What differentiates him from the pair of 23-year old All-Stars currently plugged into Boston’s lineup is that he played two years of college ball at Arkansas. Betts was drafted straight out of high school, while Bogaerts signed as an International free agent, which explains why they had more time in the lower levels of the minors.

Benintendi dominated in his sophomore season, leading the SEC with a .376/.488/.717 slash line, 20 home runs and 50 walks en route to earning the 2015 Golden Spikes Award for being the top college baseball player in the nation. The talent level he was up against in the SEC was at least on par with the competition in Single-A, so factoring in his two years as a Razorback makes up for his limited experience in the lower levels of the minors. That still leaves quite a gap between Benintendi’s experience in Double-A compared to what Betts and Bogaerts had at that level or higher prior to getting called up to Boston.

The trade deadline passed without the Red Sox making the blockbuster move many were hoping for. Dealing for a significant upgrade would have cost them at least one top prospect, such as Benintendi, so it’s no coincidence that he was promoted the next day. This smells suspiciously like the front office getting a bit anxious to show us why they held onto their best prospects rather than cash in for an ace like Chris Sale. They are hoping Benintendi catches fire down the stretch, making the Red Sox look like geniuses for keeping him.

That could happen, but I wouldn’t count on it. Benintendi is a special talent that has thrived at every level he has faced, but the major leagues will be a far greater challenge. There’s little doubt that he’ll develop into a good player eventually, but a rocky start shouldn’t be unexpected. He’ll show flashes of brilliance mixed in with the occasional rookie mistake and may be more prone to slumps than his more experienced peers.

Perhaps Benintendi will hit the ground running the way Betts did two years ago. Or he may make a name for himself in the postseason like Bogaerts did the year before. Either scenario would give the Red Sox the boost they weren’t able to find on the trade market, but it comes with serious risk. If he struggles out of the gate it could shatter his confidence, potentially stunting his development. We’ve seen that happen before with Jackie Bradley, who was rushed to the majors too quickly and took the better part of three years to fight through an extended slump before finally breaking out in the second half of last season.

The Red Sox are gambling that the same doesn’t happen to Benintendi.

Next: Red Sox acquire Abad

Pushing prospects too far before they are ready has the potential to backfire. Is Benintendi ready? We’re about to find out.