Fantasy Baseball: It's Time to Get Excited About Andrew Benintendi
Baseball fans love prospects. Fantasy baseball fans may love them even more.
Unlike other sports, where high draft picks often immediately rise to stardom, in baseball it often takes a few years -- usually more -- for even the best prospects to take the field at the major league level. Yes, even Mike Trout.
We see how quickly the hype train gets going in only a matter of months around the NFL Draft. In baseball that hype train can chug along for years and years, like something out of Snowpiercer. By the time a big-name prospect makes his debut, it almost feels like a minor (major?) event for the fantasy baseball community.
But the truth is, what fascinates us most about prospects is that we really don’t know. We get all this time to read scouting reports, peruse minor leagues stats, and cross-reference all the top 100 lists, but at the end of the day, when you draft a prospect you’re taking a leap of faith.
Which leads me to one of this year's favorites -- Andrew Benintendi.
Benintendi already made his major league debut last year, but it was a relatively brief 118 plate appearances in 34 games, swatting only a pair of home runs and swiping one bag. However, he also had a smooth .295/.359/.476 slash line with a wRC+ of 120, perhaps a sign of things to come.
How early is too early to board the Benintendi hype train in redraft leagues?
Before You Pack Your Bags
If we're going to hop on the Benintendi Express, we should take a look at what our final destination may look like.
Benintendi's career minor league numbers, combined across 2015 and 2016, add up to 657 plate appearances with 20 home runs, 106 runs, 107 RBI's, and 26 stolen bases.
It's worth noting this is across multiple minor league levels (the highest being Double-A), so this has to be taken with a grain of salt. But it conveniently amounts to about a full season of plate appearances, so it gives us an idea of his potential. The home run total may not seem like much for the minors, but it came alongside an ISO of at least .200 every step of the way, indicating there is room for growth in the homer department.
What's perhaps most impressive, though, is that Benintendi has managed to post at least a .290 batting average at every level, including the majors (.295). This is supported by his strong plate discipline in the majors last year.
Below, we can see his swing rates. He swung at fewer pitches than the average hitter -- both outside of the zone (O-Swing%) and in the zone (Z-Swing%). However, when he did swing at pitches outside of the zone, he made contact with them 71.9% of the time (O-Contact%), well above the league average. Benintendi was also slightly better than league average at making contact when swinging at pitches in the zone (Z-Contact%), all of which adds up to a very tidy 7.4% Swinging-Strike Rate (SwStr%).
It's a small sample size, but this is excellent for a player who only turned 22 last summer. He showed strong patience and contact skills across the board, particularly with pitches outside the zone. Furthermore, he wasn't just hitting a bunch of slow rollers when making contact, as he had a 25% line-drive rate and 32.9% hard-hit rate.
The only downside is he had a 38.8% fly-ball rate and 6.5% home-run-to-fly-ball rate, two things that will need to improve in order for him to be a home run asset in 2017. However, he’s been busy this offseason sending Twitter in a frenzy with a video of him bulking up, so perhaps the added weight will help put a few more balls over the fence.
Benintendi also struck out 21.2% of the time, but his low swinging-strike rate indicates it's a number which should drop. This is backed up by his impressive minor league numbers, when he actually walked more often (11.3%) than he struck out (9.6%).
If this all sounds pretty good, the Boston Red Sox certainly agree, because manager John Farrell recently said there's a chance Benintendi could bat second this year. Comparisons to breakout star teammate Mookie Betts are inevitable, but if Benintendi bats high in the order, a campaign like Betts' first full season (18 home runs, 92 runs, 77 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, and .291 average) is the kind of upside we could be dealing with.
But How Much Are The Tickets?
The Benintendi Express sounds like it's going places, but how much will it cost you to climb aboard?
Here's a comparison of Benintendi's Steamer projections with other favorite breakout candidates, all of whom are 24 or younger and have fewer than 300 major league plate appearances under their belts.
Gary Sanchez and Kyle Schwarber already have reputations that precede them, and it's no shock to see their home run numbers jump off the page. But as far as baseline numbers go, Benintendi feels like he belongs in this group. He projects the highest batting average by a healthy margin, and he might as well be tied for the most stolen base potential. This has him pegged for 517 plate appearances, a number he could smash if he's batting high in the order and playing every day.
But the point of this exercise isn't to suggest that you should take Benintendi ahead of these guys. You see, you likely won't even have to. All of these other players have average draft positions (ADP) in the top 100 of NFBC drafts.
On the other hand, Benintendi's ADP is outside the top 130.
I know, I know, by now you're probably sick of all the train analogies, but it's hard to find many reasons not to hop on the Benintendi Express.
As we said from the outset, it's easy to get wrapped up in the potential of young, unproven players, but this is simply a case where it's not going to cost you that much to get onboard. Plus, with Benintendi, the plate discipline he's shown at every level gives him a better floor than most young players, and clearly the Red Sox are expecting good things from him if they may bat him second.
Among outfielders in his price range, you could certainly play it safer with similarly styled players like Adam Eaton or Lorenzo Cain, both of whom may represent higher floors than Benintendi. There is always the possibility Benintendi struggles to adjust to a full season of major league pitching, particularly against lefties, or ultimately bats at the bottom of the order as he did last year. But this could also be the last time you get a chance to draft Benintendi this late.
When the mid-rounds approach in your draft, keep an eye out for him. We may not know how far he's going yet, but it's a journey that, at this price, we should be willing to take with him.