BOSTON -- The Red Sox snagged perhaps the nation's best college hitter in Andrew Benintendi with the seventh pick in the Draft on Thursday night.
As a draft-eligible sophomore out of Arkansas, Benintendi had a breakout season, hitting .380 while leading Division 1 with 19 homers. The left-handed hitter stole 23 bases and was the SEC Player of the Year. He is also a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's best collegiate baseball player.
The Red Sox monitored the leap closely and pounced.
"Obviously he took a big jump this year," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. "Despite only two years of college baseball, there's quite a bit of history that we have with him going back to high school and he's someone who's always played at the highest level of competition that's been available to him, whether it's been in high school or college.
"Put that together with his performance, and his physical skills and getting to know him as a person as we were able to do this spring, when it got time to our pick at 7, he was the top player on the board, and it was obvious who we were taking. We're really excited to take him."
A player is Draft-eligible as a sophomore if he is 21 or turns 21 within 45 days following the Draft. Benintendi turns 21 on July 6, so he falls within that window. A player who is a Draft-eligible sophomore is often perceived to have more leverage in negotiations because he has two years of college eligibility left.
For Benintendi, it was rewarding to see all of his recent dedication pay off.
After adding roughly 15 pounds of muscle, Benintendi had a big jump across the board offensively this season after hitting just one homer in 2014.
"This offseason I put in a lot of work, working on my body, changing up my diet," said Benintendi. "I put on 15 pounds this past summer, and coming back and playing fall ball, I started to notice -- especially with the new baseballs in college, the lower seams this year -- that me putting on some muscle played a big factor."
Benintendi has the speed to play center field and is getting ready to play in the College World Series.
"As far as the player and his toolset, we think Andrew is a very well-rounded player," said Red Sox director of player development Mike Rikard. "There are so many things we like about him. He's very athletic, he can run, he can play center field. We see him eventually as a top of the order type of bat."
Benintendi has the type of opposite-field stroke that could allow him to thrive at Fenway Park.
"That's actually one of the things we like the most about Andrew is that he's a very well-rounded offensive player," said Rikard. "I think there's no doubt he'll be able to control the strike zone and recognize pitches at a high level, which gives us a lot of comfort in projecting him as a Major League player. But he also has power and he has power to both sides of the field. I think he's going to be a guy who can work counts, for sure, but he's also got a lot of the good hitter's traits we like as well as far as being aggressive and controlling the strike zone."
As excited as Benintendi is to become a professional baseball player, the best part of his college career is still to come.
"I told him he and his teammates still had something to accomplish," said Cherington. "It's an incredible opportunity to be able to play in the College World Series. Not a lot of guys get to do that. So we'll be rooting for him and it will be a great experience for his sake and his teammates' sake, so hopefully Arkansas wins a few more games. Whenever that is over, we look forward to getting an opportunity to talk to him and hopefully getting him into a Red Sox uniform."
The Cincinnati native joins Jeff King (No. 1 pick in 1986) and Kevin McReynolds (sixth pick in 1981) as Razorback players to be selected in the first seven picks of the Draft.
The Draft continues on Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.