Red Sox: Now’s the time to see how good Andrew Benintendi is

Apr 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi (16) during the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi (16) during the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

Red Sox rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi is stuck in the worst offensive slump by a non-pitcher this season. The first of his professional career and life.

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” – William Ward

For the first time in his professional career, Andrew Benintendi has found himself in a prolonged slump. It was bound to happen to the Red Sox outfielder at some point and it’s more than impressive that he’s made it this far without one. He sped through the minor leagues, playing just 151 games between Low-A and Double-A before getting a late promotion at the end of the 2016 season. Aside from an injury that robbed him of three weeks in August and September, this is the first setback he’s had to overcome in his professional career.

As a player that has generally had an easy ride through the system and up to baseball’s highest level now is the time to see how good Benintendi really is.

Adversity is common for most players in the MLB. Not everyone glides through the minor leagues, finds immediate success in their major league debut, and is instantly recognized as one of the best young players in the game. Which isn’t at all a knock on Benintendi, his success and recognition are well deserved. What it is though, is a challenge to see whether he can overcome and prove that he belongs in the conversation as one of the best players in the game or let the slump get the best of him and consume the rest of his year.

He began the season as a rookie, if only technically, and immediately assumed the second spot in the team’s lineup. Two weeks ago, while the offense was struggling to put up runs, manager John Farrell moved the 22-year old to the cleanup spot. He found immediate success batting fourth, going 7-for-15 (.467) with two home runs and five runs batted in over the team’s three-game series against the Minnesota Twins at the beginning of the month. However, he’s been mired in a 0-for-26 slump that has included just one run and one RBI since the series finale.

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To Farrell’s credit – he’s ridden Benintendi for as long as he could during the slump. Not once has the manager’s confidence wavered in the left fielder’s ability to hit in the clean-up spot or start on a daily basis, playing him in 38 of the team’s 39 games. So when he gave Benintendi a day off Thursday to clear his thoughts, the manager was able to conveniently frame it as regular rest.

Even amidst his struggles, he’s still found ways to contribute. Take his sacrifice fly against Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal for example. Facing 100 mph heat, Benintendi still had enough poise and control of the strike zone to lift a ball into left field and plate a run. His control of the zone, arguably his best talent, is what tells me that his slump will be looked at as an anomaly in an otherwise stellar season.

As of Thursday, he’s struck out in just 13.4% of his plate appearances and collected 16 walks to his 23 strikeouts. Even during his cold streak, he’s walked (4) as many times as he’s struck out (4). Even with a .000 average and .156 OBP, he’s found a way to at least challenge opposing pitchers in his at-bats.

As hard as this is for the young hitter, he’s taking it in stride according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

"“It sucks now, but hopefully whenever it ends I’ll learn from it and avoid those long slumps, which are the ones that frustrate you,” Benintendi said."

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For that, he deserves credit. So long as the rookie stays in control of his at-bats, the hits will come and the production will return to its normal level. He would have snapped his hitless streak in Thursday’s victory, were it not for a diving play by Cardinals third baseman Jedd Gyorko and subsequent pick by Matt Carpenter at first. Benintendi can only trend skyward from here.