The entire preview process for the MLB Draft each year focuses on where all of these prospect rank against one another. Being one of the five or 10 or 20 or 500 best draft prospects doesn't tell you anything about where a newly drafted player ranks within the farm system they find themselves in, and that is no different for the newest first-round pick on the Red Sox, Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi. Don't worry, though, we're here to give you some context to attach to Benintendi, with some help from our prospect analysts friends from around the industry.
Sure, Benintendi hasn't officially signed with the Red Sox, but for our purposes, let's just assume that's a foregone conclusion so we can get with the contextualizing him sooner than later. It's not like his prospect stock is going to change between now and the moment he puts pen to paper.
We asked Baseball Prospectus' head of prospect analysis Christopher Crawford what he thought, as well as FanGraph's prospect guru Kiley McDaniel and ESPN's Eric Longenhagen where Benintendi would rank, snap-judgment style, in Boston's system right now, and to explain their position a little. For the record, we considered Blake Swihart and Rusney Castillo both ineligible in their rankings, since neither is likely to head back to Pawtucket soon, but Eduardo Rodriguez is still on the list, because the question was asked before he went and shut the Orioles down on Tuesday, and plus, he just got here.
Right now, I'd put Benintendi somewhere between 4-7 in the Red Sox top 10; certainly behind guys like Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, and Eduardo Rodriguez (while he still qualifies), and right on par with guys like Henry Owens (despite his struggles) and Manuel Margot -- though I'm lower on Margot than some in the industry.
Benintendi reminds me somewhat of Bradley Zimmer, with slightly more upside but less of a floor than Zimmer, too. I thought he was a slight reach at pick seven, but I certainly understood why the Red Sox were high on him.
If we're dumping Blake Swihart and Rusney Castillo from the list, my order entering the year would be:
1. Yoan Moncada
2. Eduardo Rodriguez
3. Henry Owens
4. Manuel Margot
5. Rafael Devers
I checked with an exec who says he'd slide Margot ahead of Owens and slide Benintendi between Margot and Owens, ahead of Devers. I'm a Devers believer and I shade toward bats in ties, so I'm basically saying that Owens/Margot/Devers/Benintendi are in a glut for spots 3-6. I don't have a strong opinion on the exact order at this point in the season, but I think you guys are more looking for tiers than final answers. [Editor's note: We are!]
I'd have him above everyone but Yoan Moncada, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Manuel Margot. Benintendi is right there with Rafael Devers, and so your decision between those two comes down to personal preference.
He's a plus runner who stays in center field so his upside is going to be dictated by how much he hits. It's hard for someone this small to swing and miss if they have any kind of bat speed and bat control, so he should be at least an average hitter, though I suppose if you want to nitpick you could say he's a little stiff at the plate. He's going to golf out around 15 homers every year while playing solid defense in center, probably hit something like .270/.320/.440.
If he does slow down at some point because he's filled out so much and has to move to a corner, fine, because he'll likely have added power, too. In that case, he'd probably be what Brandon Moss was originally supposed to. So that's an above average regular, but because Benintendi lacks a track record and has been hurt in the past he carries a little more risk.
So, Benintendi is a high-quality prospect, but he's a little further down the list for the Red Sox because they're still loaded at the very top even after the graduations of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, and Rusney Castillo in the last year-plus. While all three analysts had lovely things to say about one of last summer's first-rounders, Michael Kopech, Benintendi does manage to come in ahead of him in their minds.
The primary concern seems to be that there is a lack of a track record -- Crawford mentioned he was a bit of a reach, as well, but those two ideas are related ones. The Sox grabbed a college outfielder who is still on the young side -- he'll turn 21 next month, meaning he's in his age-20 season -- right after his breakout, so that's to be expected. They're betting on him continuing to improve, or at least on his spring being the true representation of who he is. That would be huge for Boston, considering Benintendi terrorized SEC pitching all season long.
The Brandon Moss comp is a fascinating one for Red Sox fans to digest -- remember that comps are more for easy context than for saying "this is who a player is" -- since the Moss everyone else knows about is far different from the one who was originally coming up through Boston's system. That Moss was a contact hitter who had some pop, but was going to produce through a combination of hits, walks, and moderate power. Remember, Moss, as a 23-year-old, hit .282/.363/.471 for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2007, and .285/.357/.439 the year before in the Eastern League.
Who knows if Benintendi will end up on the same track offense-wise -- as Longenhagen said, he'd have to fill out for this to even be an option -- but it's certainly not a bad thing to aspire to. It's hard to remember now, given how different Moss is and thanks to the years of struggles, but he was a legitimate top-100 prospect at one point as a corner outfielder.
Just maybe leave the whole "set adrift for four years after reaching the majors" thing out of the equation if you do follow in Moss' footsteps, Andrew. We don't ask for much.