Benintendi's fast track leads to Double-A

Benintendi's fast track leads to Double-A

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- When Andrew Benintendi debuted for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs on May 16, the center fielder did so with his fifth team in less than a year.

Consistent success has propelled Benintendi on this rapid journey, from the University of Arkansas, through three Class A Red Sox affiliates and now to Portland. With the latest promotion comes perhaps the most daunting challenge yet for the 21-year-old, who is No. 21 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.

The leap to Double-A can be the largest a prospect has to make before reaching the Majors, as he encounters more advanced pitching, represented on Wednesday night by Harrisburg right-hander and No. 1 overall prospect Lucas Giolito.

"Guys in [Class A Advanced] and Double-A, I'd say have comparable stuff, velo, offspeed pitches," said Portland first baseman Nate Freiman, who spent time in the Majors with Oakland from 2013-14. "But the difference in Double-A is guys can do what they're trying to do with it more often. They can throw it where they want. They can locate a little bit more, and that makes it a lot harder to hit."

Benintendi's eye-popping production prompted the Red Sox to move him up the ladder. Since becoming the No. 7 pick in last summer's MLB Draft, he spent no more than 35 games apiece at Lowell, Greenville and most recently Salem, posting OPS marks of .948, 1.011 and .976, respectively.

It's a tiny sample, but Benintendi's numbers during his first week with the Sea Dogs did not match that track record. Through Thursday, he was 4-for-25 (.160) with a double, four RBIs, three walks and seven strikeouts.

"It's no secret I've struggled here so far, but it's only been six games," Benintendi said prior to Wednesday's contest. "As I keep seeing Double-A pitching and the way they pitch me, hopefully I can learn the sequences and take that and get better."

After three straight 0-for-4 games, Benintendi has recorded a hit, a walk and an RBI in each of his past two. On Wednesday, he made solid contact against Giolito for a first-inning single that drove in Portland's only run, and later stole his 10th base of the season, showing off his smooth left-handed swing and plus speed.

But even without enjoying his usual level of success, Benintendi said his coaches and teammates have made him feel at home and confident with his new club. That's due in part to a concerted effort Benintendi made this spring to get to know as many fellow Red Sox as he could.

"I think coming into this Spring Training, my first one, I was really trying to get to know everybody and build some relationships so I would feel more comfortable moving up," Benintendi said.

In Freiman's opinion, the results will soon follow.

Over that first week, he saw Benintendi hit a lot of balls hard, even if many of them were caught. Beyond that, Benintendi's approach has made a strong impression. When the veteran watches the prospect at the plate, he notices a hitter who is capable of sticking with a game plan but also of making adjustments to prevent a pitcher from getting him out the same way again and again.

"Six games is not a meaningful amount of time to extrapolate someone's numbers," Freiman said before Wednesday's game. "But in six games you can extrapolate their presence and their plan and their ability, and he has all of those."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Washington metro area. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.