Benson makes most of shot, could win bench spot

Benson makes most of shot, could win bench spot

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez raised some eyebrows when he mentioned Joe Benson as a candidate for Atlanta's roster on Sunday. At the time, Benson's time in Major League camp amounted to five appearances he made as an extra who had been brought over from Minor League camp to fill the latter innings of Grapefruit League games.

But after Benson capped a four-hit night with a walk-off single during Thursday's 6-5 win over the Orioles, there seemed to be a sense that this 27-year-old outfielder might indeed become one of the most surprising additions to an Opening Day roster in recent memory.

"It's quite the rollercoaster ride, just tons of emotions every single day," Benson said. "I just came up here [to Major League games] on what they call the velcro squad, getting to come up every other day or so and make the most of my opportunities."

Benson did not even get a locker in the Major League clubhouse until he was finally given non-roster invitee status on Thursday. He had been getting dressed in the Minor League clubhouse before making his way over to games.

At Gonzalez's request, Benson has made that journey over to the Major League side on a daily basis this week. The Braves manager and his coaches had been impressed enough with Benson's athleticism and defensive skills to determine he needed a shot to fill their need for a right-handed-hitting backup center fielder.

Benson has made the most of this unexpected opportunity. He homered off Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels on Wednesday and then notched three of his four singles on Thursday against southpaws. His game-ending hit off Baltimore left-hander T.J. McFarland was a line drive to left field.

"He got four hits, and three of them were against left-handed pitching," Gonzalez said. "When you put the ball in play, something can happen. He runs well enough where he doesn't have to square it up like he did [on Wednesday against Hamels]. He does a lot of good things and he's fundamentally sound in the outfield."

Benson has battled numerous injuries since being selected by the Twins in the second round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He felt he had a chance to break with Minnesota's club out of Spring Training in 2012, but he got sent down during the early weeks of camp as he struggled while returning from offseason knee surgery.

Though Benson has played just 21 games at the Major League level, the Braves believe he is capable of serving as that effective right-handed bench bat who can occasionally spell Eric Young Jr. in center field -- at least until Melvin Upton Jr. returns from a left foot ailment that will sideline him until May.

"He's always struggled hitting against right-handed pitchers," Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. "He's always struggled with his bat, but he's got a lot of tools and a lot of talent. Our guys have liked seeing him up here."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.