Top billing: Benintendi shows off power

No. 1 prospect belts three-run homer on Opening Day

Top billing: Benintendi shows off power

BOSTON -- Andrew Benintendi's power figures to be the weapon that sneaks up on people during a season that could end with the diminutive left fielder winning the American League's Rookie of the Year Award.

The Pirates certainly took notice of it during the Red Sox's 5-3 victory on Opening Day at Fenway Park on Monday when the left fielder unloaded on a 97.8-mph fastball by ace Gerrit Cole with two outs in the bottom of the fifth and deposited it into the Bucs' bullpen in right field for a three-run homer.

"It's awesome," said Benintendi. "Something you dream about as a kid. For it to be here, it's awesome."

And it was the latest example of the 22-year-old Benintendi not being fazed by all that surrounds him.

"We talked about it pretty much since the time he's come to the big leagues," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "He's got a short track record we know, but there's never been evidence of panic even in a two-strike situation. He sees the ball extremely well. He's got a true understanding of the strike zone. Pretty special young player."

Last year, Benintendi hit the ground running -- and hitting -- as soon as he was promoted from Double-A Portland for the final two months of a pennant race. When it came time for the postseason, Benintendi bashed a home run in Game 1 of the AL Division Series at Cleveland.

Benintendi's running catch

The latest "first" was playing Opening Day at Fenway Park.

Cole thought he had a game-plan to best Benintendi in that crucial at-bat that punctuated Boston's five-run fifth inning. The home run was on a 2-2 pitch, and increased Boston's lead to 5-0.

"[The intent] was to throw the same one we threw 1-1, [which] kind of froze him," said Cole. "Obviously he was not going to let that one get by him again. After we froze him on the one in, he was not going to get frozen again on it. He got the head out."

According to Statcast™, the Red Sox hit only two homers last season on pitches harder than the one Benintendi scorched on Monday. David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez, two noted sluggers, authored those shots in 2016.

Benintendi stands at 5-foot-10, so he'll probably never be a pure home-run hitter. But the power is in there.

"You know, his swing is so effortless and smooth, you can't tell if he ever over-swings the bat or not," said Farrell. "But for a guy of his stature, there's such great timing and fluidity to the swing, he creates easy power. That was the case on that swing."

Benintendi, who is ranked the No. 1 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, is the fourth Red Sox player 22 years old or younger to hit a homer on Opening Day in the live ball era (since 1920), joining Tom Winsett ('31), Tony Conigliaro ('63) and Mookie Betts (2015).

"He's got a great feel at the plate," said winning pitcher Rick Porcello of Benintendi. "He's extremely mature and takes everything in stride, which is his biggest strength, to be able to handle the ups and downs very well. He's a lot of fun to watch play."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.