Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada, two of the best prospects in the Red Sox system, are both in High-A at the moment. They will both play in Double-A at some point this summer, and if things go well, maybe even Triple-A before the year is out. These are all positives, for both Boston and their talented youths.
You could argue that both of them should be in Double-A right now, though, given their performances at the plate for the Salem Red Sox. Moncada at least has some built-in excuses for still being at High-A despite batting .348/.478/.506 with 19 steals in 23 attempts: the Red Sox don't want to move him off of second base until he's shown he can actually play the position so he has a defensive base to work with later on, and it's still just cold enough in Portland and the Eastern League that letting the Cuban native Moncada hang around in a warmer climate for a little longer isn't the worst idea, especially given what the cold can do to your offensive numbers.
With Benintendi, though, there is no such excuse. It was forgivable to begin his season at High-A, at least: he was drafted last summer, seventh overall, and played all of 19 games for Low-A Greenville before this promotion. Now, though, he's 25 games into High-A, and it's pretty clear that he won't find the challenge he needs there. Benintendi is in the midst of a 22-game hit streak in which he's batting .386/.451/.670 with 17 extra-base hits and more walks than strikeouts. On the season, he has as many triples (seven) as strikeouts, and even if you clumsily bump his batting average on balls in play down from .389 to a more league-average figure, his line would still look promotion-worthy.
There is more to a prospect than his numbers, of course, but even still, it's time to promote Benintendi to Double-A. There are those who think he can take the Michael Conforto path of heading to the majors -- and playing well -- in his first full season after being drafted. While that is absolutely some best-case scenario optimism -- and therefore unlikely, even if it is possible -- it's optimism that will only be tested if Benintendi gets to the high minors in a hurry. Put him in Double-A, and if he crushes it the same way he has short-season ball, Low-A, and High-A, then it's time to see what Triple-A Pawtucket and the International League have to offer him.
If, somehow, he still hasn't slowed down, then hey, give that Conforto plan a try, especially since the Sox are at the point of trying catcher Blake Swihart out in left field just to avoid using Rusney Castillo there any longer.
Benintendi, like any prospect, is no sure thing. He needs to be tested, to be challenged, and eventually to fail so that he can learn from his mistakes and progress as a player. The Carolina League doesn't seem capable of pushing him to his limits in this way, so the sooner he gets to Double-A Portland and Eastern League pitching, the better. It's clear he can crush fastballs, it's clear he has real power and speed, but his approach and his ability to recognize and hit secondaries won't be refined with further plate appearances against outmatched opponents. That first major-league caliber curve he sees on the outside part of the plate is going to tell us more about who he currently is than repeat performances against low-minors heaters.
To give you a sense of how little the Carolina League can tell us from a numbers perspective, look no further than former Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini. Now, don't take this to mean Benintendi and Cecchini are exactly the same or anything, but there are some similarities -- Benintendi was a college player of the year who was drafted in the top-10, and whereas Cecchini was a fourth-round pick back in 2010, he received a $1.3 million bonus for his upside and agreement to skip college. Today, that would be second-round money by slot value. They're far apart in stock, yes, but by less than you'd think, performance-wise, given the latter's current situation. For example, Cecchini absolutely demolished High-A ball back in 2013, hitting .350/.469/.547 with 43 walks against 34 strikeouts while sitting atop many of the league's leaderboards for much of his time there, and even after his promotion.
He slowed down when he got to Portland, but still looked promising, with a good eye and the potential to hit for average and maybe even some power as he gained experience. He even made it into the top-25 of some mid-season prospect lists, as Benintendi did before this season began. Instead of progressing, though, Cecchini slowed down even more in Triple-A, faltered completely in his return to the level last summer, and now he's a former prospect -- one who once played in MLB's Futures Game during All-Star weekend -- struggling to make his way onto the roster of a rebuilding Brewers' team. His promotions taught us much, and more than his time at High-A could.
The high minors are a very different beast than the low minors in much the same way the majors are significantly different than Triple-A. Benintendi, like Cecchini did just a few years ago, is just ruining the days of every Carolina League pitcher he faces. It's impressive, sure, but it's not teaching us -- or Benintendi -- much about who he will be someday in games that matter. Double-A won't tell the full story, either, but it'll do a better job of at least advancing the plot than his current level.
Benintendi is unlikely to fall apart like Cecchini did -- as said, there are a couple of similarities between the two, but they aren't the same kind of prospect. The sooner Benintendi moves up the organizational ladder, though, then the sooner the Red Sox will be able to find out if he's actually going to be available for the 2017 season as many hope he will be, or if he's even, in the most optimistic scenario, available for the end of 2016 like Xander Bogaerts was back in 2013. He'll likely get the call to Portland soon, maybe by the middle of this month, but he should already have been on his way to Maine before you even got to this sentence.