BOSTON -- For all the talk about which bat the Red Sox should acquire via trade or free agency, there's a strong chance that the team's best overall offensive player in 2018 will be Andrew Benintendi.When you watch Benintendi spray the ball from gap to gap or fly around the
BOSTON -- For all the talk about which bat the Red Sox should acquire via trade or free agency, there's a strong chance that the team's best overall offensive player in 2018 will be Andrew Benintendi.
When you watch Benintendi spray the ball from gap to gap or fly around the bases, it's easy to forget his career is just getting started. At 23 years old and coming off a second-place finish in American League Rookie of the Year Award balloting, Benintendi should keep getting better.
The athleticism and the sweet left-handed swing are already there. But now that Benintendi has a full season under his belt, the experience alone should make him go into 2018 with a stronger base of confidence. If Benintendi takes another significant step forward, it could translate into a deep playoff run for Boston.
Benintendi will be a vital cog in new manager Alex Cora's lineup, capable of hitting anywhere between second and fifth. The solid numbers Benintendi put together in 2017 (20 homers, 90 RBIs, 20 stolen bases, .776 OPS) would have been even better if not for two prolonged slumps, first in May and then in July.
Benintendi now has a full year's worth of experience seeing how other teams made adjustments to try to stop him, and he's confident he can reduce the lengths of his slumps in the upcoming year.
Last season, Benintendi scored 84 runs and had 26 doubles in 573 at-bats. It's easy to envision the left-handed hitter emerging into the type of player who scores 100 runs and belts 40 or so doubles, particularly if the Red Sox became a more potent offensive unit.
"I know that being with the Dodgers last year, people around Major League Baseball look at this team as one with a lot of young talent and an exciting group of guys, and I know Andrew has played a big part of a lot of it," said new Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers. "He should be right in the middle of it."
In Benintendi's final college season for Arkansas, many regarded him as the best hitter in the nation. The Red Sox took him seventh overall in the 2015 Draft, and they have never regretted the decision.
These are exciting times to watch a young Red Sox outfield that includes Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. alongside Benintendi. Betts and Bradley are elite defenders at their positions in right and center, and Benintendi has swiftly become a solid left fielder after playing center his whole life.
"It definitely pushes me, watching those guys," said Benintendi. "Defense, growing up, was really kind of secondary behind hitting. Up here it's not. Defense can win games and it did last season, and it's probably going to win us some more down the road."
Whether it's with the bat, the glove, the legs or his arm, look for Benintendi to help lead the Red Sox to many wins going forward.
"He is a really good player already and looks like he could be a good player for a long time," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.