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Healthy Aiken, top Draft picks lead Indians' instructs

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The past four months have been hectic for Will Benson.

The Indians' No. 7 prospect was the 14th overall selection in the June Draft, moved to Arizona to play in the Arizona League and had to simultaneously adjust to both professional baseball and living on his own for the first time.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The past four months have been hectic for Will Benson.

The Indians' No. 7 prospect was the 14th overall selection in the June Draft, moved to Arizona to play in the Arizona League and had to simultaneously adjust to both professional baseball and living on his own for the first time.

Indians' Top 30 Prospects list

As a result, Benson struggled. The outfielder hit just .209 in 44 games with the AZL Indians.

Indians Top 30 Prospects at instructs
2. Brady Aiken, LHP
6. Nolan Jones, 3B
7. Will Benson, OF
20. Luke Wakamatsu, SS
21. Connor Capel, OF
22. Logan Ice, C
24. Ulysses Cantu, 3B

"I put too much pressure on myself to begin with," Benson said. "I put too much hype on it because I wanted to do so well. Once I started to slow down and just had fun, it became just another game."

The whirlwind of summer is over and Benson has been given an opportunity to slow down and catch his breath in instructional league. In doing so, he's beginning to show why the club was so excited to draft him.

"He's a great teammate, invested in the guys around him and he makes guys around him better," Indians director of player development Carter Hawkins said. "We are really excited to have someone with that much ceiling in our organization, but even more excited to have someone that goes about it the way he does, that approaches challenges like him."

Benson was certainly challenged early in his career, striking out 13 times in his first 10 games. Ultimately, Benson struck out 60 times in 158 at-bats, but, as Hawkins said, Benson recognized the rough patch and is already working on the solution.

"I think I have some holes and I'm really focused on smoothing everything out," Benson said. "The less motion the better. [I'm trying to] stay direct to the ball and become the best hitter I can be."

The laid-back atmosphere of instructs is beneficial for a lot of young players who are still learning the ropes, a description Benson fits. While taking batting practice in the cage toward the back of the Indians' complex, the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder doesn't have to worry about putting up big power numbers.

"I'm able to focus on certain aspects of my game, give that full attention," Benson said. "I let go of thinking about proving myself and moving up. It's not about that right now, it's just about bettering myself and being better than I was yesterday."

Aiken enjoying healthy offseason

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015, Brady Aiken finally made his professional debut in 2016. The Indians' No. 2 prospect (No. 64 overall) pitched in nine games (eight starts) in the AZL and made five starts with Class A Short Season Mahoning Valley.

The results were mixed, but, most importantly, Aiken is healthy and back on the mound.

"It was very important for me this year to kind of get out of that rehab state of mind and compete and get back to where I was before, get used to competing again and get back to being in a baseball environment," Aiken said.

The Indians are also pleased with the progress from the 20-year-old left-hander and believe he is setting himself up for a big 2017.

"He works as hard as anybody and he certainly does not see himself as any different than his teammates, which is hard to do with everything he's been through," Hawkins said. "We are really pleased with the foundation he was able to build for himself this year and feel like what he was able to do on the mound toward the later part of the season was just scratching the surface."

Aiken threw just 46 1/3 innings in 2016, but won't rack up a ton of innings in instructs.

Instead, Aiken wants to spend time fine-tuning his mechanics and setting up his offseason program to get ready for the spring.

"I think the big thing for me now is taking some time off, rest, let the arm get back into shape and come into Spring Training ready to go," Aiken said. "The fastball velocity will be back and all my pitches will be good to go."

Isaacs making a name for himself

The Indians have plenty of talent on the instructs roster, including seven of their top 30 prospects and five of their top seven Draft picks.

However, sometimes it's the lesser known guys that steal the spotlight. The Indians selected Todd Isaacs in the 19th round of the 2015 Draft and he's been impressive since then.

Isaacs hit .333 in 44 games with Class A Short Season Mahoning Valley and also drove in three runs in four games with Great Britain during the World Baseball Classic qualifiers.

"He's somebody that came into our organization with very little fanfare last year," Hawkins said. "This year he's made huge strides on both sides of the ball. He performed really well at Mahoning Valley and in the WBC qualifier [for Great Britain]. He's a guy that just keeps coming up and that's purely because of the work he puts in, purely because of the attitude he's had. He's made tremendous strides and that's cool to see. Hopefully that rubs off on some of the other guys."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.