Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi records 500th career hit

Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi has 500 career hits.

Andrew Benintendi slapped the ball to the opposite field where it bounced in shallow left and hopped into the stands for a ground rule double. Without fans in attendance to pounce on the souvenir,  the baseball was easily retrieved and delivered back to the hitter. The two-out double in the top of the ninth inning meant nothing to the outcome of a Boston Red Sox victory over the New York Mets but it held a special significance to Benintendi.

That hit was the 500th of Benintendi’s career, a significant milestone for a player his age. There are only 30 other hitters in franchise history who have recorded 500 hits by the age of 26.

The accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider that Benintendi turned 26 earlier this month on July 6. The delayed start to the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic prevented Benny from having the opportunity to reach this milestone before his latest birthday. Considering he entered the year with 498 career hits, it’s fair to say he would have crossed the 500 mark as a 25-year-old if the season had started on time back in March.

When viewed within that context, only 20 other Red Sox hitters have tallied 500 hits by their age-25 season. Regardless of when Opening Day ended up falling, this remains Benintendi’s age-25 season since that’s how old he was when the season was originally scheduled to begin.

Benintendi has joined an exclusive group of Red Sox hitters who thrived at an early age. Nearly half of those players who reached 500 hits at this age with this franchise are in the Hall of Fame or on target for serious consideration. Tony Conigliaro and Nomar Garciaparra had sensational starts to careers that were derailed by injuries. Dwight Evans isn’t in Cooperstown but he is in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

There’s a growing perception that Benintendi hasn’t lived up to the potential that made him the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 draft. He made a great first impression during a brief 34-game sample at the age of 21, just over a year after he was drafted, hitting .295 with an .835 OPS.

He followed that by hitting .271/.352/.424 with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 2017 to finish as the runner-up for the AL Rookie of the Year award. In 2018, Benny was the runner-up on the Final Vote ballot for the All-Star team and finished that year hitting. 290 with a .830 OPS.

It’s been downhill since then. Benintendi struggled through a frustrating 2019 campaign, hitting .266 with a .774 OPS, 13 home runs and 10 steals. The 20/20 five-tool threat with the sweet swing we thought might eventually earn him a batting title was nowhere to be seen.

A cold spell to open this abbreviated season has further damaged his reputation. Benintendi has a mere two hits in 19 at-bats. A ground rule double that he was awarded thanks to a fortunate bounce into the stands is his only extra-base hit. He has swiped one base already but was thrown out by a mile on his latest attempt to steal.

As perplexing as his slump has been, we can’t forget that Benintendi only recently turned 26. He’s still a young player with plenty of room to grow.

Despite his recent struggles, Benny still owns a career .275 batting average. That’s higher than the average held by several Red Sox hitters who had 500 hits by their age 25 season, including Conigliaro (.270) and Evans (.261). Tony C’s career-altering injury prevented him from reaching greater heights but Dewey saw his production rise during his prime to finish with a career .272 average and 2446 hits.

Benny might not end up lasting 20 years like Evans did but since he broke into the big leagues at a young age, we should expect his career to last at least another decade. He averaged about 155 hits from 2017-2019. Even if you remain pessimistic about his chances of recapturing his peak, it’s hard to believe a player with his talent will perform as poorly as he did last season when he still manged 144 hits. Do that for another decade and that’s another 1400+ hits that we can conservatively project.

Assuming relative health for 10 more seasons, it’s conceivable that Benintendi could make a run at 2,000 hits. If he remains in Boston, that would make him only the eighth player to reach that career total in a Red Sox uniform.

This is merely a projection that predicts too far into the future to have any certainty that it will ever come to fruition. What it does tell us is that 500 hits at this early stage of his career is an impressive accomplishment and Benintendi is at least on pace for a better career than he’s given credit for.