MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

SEC standout Benintendi poised as top 10 pick

Razorbacks outfielder has raised Draft profile with sophomore campaign

SEC standout Benintendi poised as top 10 pick

Andrew Benintendi didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Yet his emergence this spring as a likely top 10 pick in the First-Year Player Draft has been a surprise.

As a senior at Madeira High in Cincinnati, Benintendi was the Ohio High School Division III Player of the Year in both baseball and basketball. His athleticism was obvious, but so was his desire to attend Arkansas, and he had yet to show much power. The Reds selected him in the 31st round in 2013, despite knowing there was little chance he'd turn pro.

Benintendi played regularly for the Razorbacks in 2014, though batting .276/.368/.333 with one homer and 17 steals didn't garner him any freshman all-America mention. He didn't raise his profile during the summer, because he didn't play in any of the collegiate leagues, instead focusing on adding strength and recovering from a quad injury.

"Before this year, he was in my third tier of prospects," an area scout with a National League team said. "He had tools, but he was on the back burner because of his signability as a sophomore-eligible. With the way he's played, signability won't matter."

Though sophomores have extra leverage because they have two years of college remaining, Benintendi will go early enough that he'll get an offer that will be difficult to refuse. Eligible because his 21st birthday (July 6) falls within 45 days of the Draft, he has pushed himself into the area where the assigned values for bonus-pool purposes are upward of $3 million.

Benintendi enters the NCAA regional playoffs leading the Southeastern Conference in hitting (.391), on-base percentage (.492), slugging (.738), home runs (18) and walks (40). Currently eighth in RBIs and eight behind the league leader (Florida freshman catcher J.J. Schwarz) with 52, he'll probably fall a few short of joining Rafael Palmeiro as the only triple-crown winners in league history.

Benintendi will have to settle for being Arkansas' first SEC Player of the Year since it joined the league in 1991 -- he locked that up on May 18. He also figures to become the Razorbacks' highest-drafted player since Jeff King went No. 1 overall in 1986.

In a Draft light on college position players, his tools and production make him the third-best available behind two other SEC stars, shortstops Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt) and Alex Bregman (Louisiana State). Benintendi's hitting, speed and center-field defense all earn plus grades from scouts, while his power and arm are at least average. He and North Florida outfielder Donnie Dewees, another potential first-rounder, are the only NCAA Division I players with at least 15 homers and 20 steals.

Though he's not physically imposing, the 5-foot-10 and 180-pound Benintendi has a quick left-handed swing and deceptive strength. Scouts believe he'll be able to hit at least 15-18 homers annually in the big leagues.

"Most of your bigger home run guys hit it out to all parts of the park," a NL scouting director said. "He's not that, but it's solid power. He pulls the ball a lot. He'll hit home runs and a lot of doubles."

The Rockies, who own the No. 3 choice, are the earliest club linked to Benintendi. The Red Sox at No. 7 have serious interest, as do the Cubs at No. 9 and the Phillies at No. 10. It's unlikely he would slip past the Reds at No. 11.

"He was a good little athlete in high school, but I don't know where the power came from," an American League senior scouting official said. "I never thought he'd be close to hitting .400 and 20/20 in the SEC. He has tools and he's athletic. I just wish he had some wood-bat background, but I still don't think he's getting past No. 9."

The 2015 Draft will take place on June 8-10, beginning with the Draft Preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on June 8 at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 75 picks streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 9.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.