CLEVELAND -- Will Benson has a mission, and it began on Thursday night. When the high school senior heard his name called in the first-round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Benson shifted his focus not only to the Indians, his new team, but to Cleveland, his new city.Selected with the
CLEVELAND -- Will Benson has a mission, and it began on Thursday night. When the high school senior heard his name called in the first-round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Benson shifted his focus not only to the Indians, his new team, but to Cleveland, his new city.
Selected with the 14th overall pick, Benson believes he can do more than eventually impact the Tribe on the field. The young outfielder plans on signing in order to begin his path toward becoming a Major League slugger, and to also to start his journey away from the diamond, where he hopes to develop into an ambassador for the game.
"I'm very thankful the Indians drafted me," Benson said. "But, it doesn't mean anything if I don't impact the people that are in Cleveland, impact the world."
• 14th overall: Will Benson
• 55th overall: Nolan Jones
• 72nd overall: Logan Ice
:: Complete 2016 Draft coverage ::
This is why it was a no-brainer for Benson, who will turn 18 on June 16, to attend the MLB Draft at MLB Network's Studio 42. What the prep outfielder -- a product of The Westminster Schools in Atlanta -- did not expect was to be one of just two Draft-eligible players, alongside pitcher Ian Anderson, in attendance for Major League Baseball's annual event.
Baseball has given so much to Benson and his family already, and he wants to do his part to give back and cultivate future generations of ballplayers. During a conference call with Cleveland reporters, he spoke of working to provide facilities for kids to play baseball. He lauded the Indians for their work off the field. He discussed wanting to participate in charity events.
"I was shocked that me and Ian were the only two to show up," Benson told reporters at the Draft. "My primary goal is to make baseball the No. 1 sport in America again. ... I think it's time for us to make it the here-and-now sport. Baseball's starting to move back up in the ranks and I'm looking forward to impacting the game so that's the case, so baseball becomes that No. 1 sport again."
A trio of Cleveland scouts met with Benson and his family for roughly two hours back in October, and they were blown away by the 17-year-old's maturity.
"They walked away amazed," said Brad Grant, the Indians' director of amateur scouting. "Here you have an inner-city kid from Atlanta that has those thoughts and has that intelligence and that passion and dreams to do what he wants to do. He's a really special kid."
By selecting Benson, Cleveland injected some raw power into the team's farm system. It marked the third time in the past six years under Grant that the Tribe went with a high school position player with its top selection. He joins outfielder Clint Frazier (2013) and shortstop Francisco Lindor (2011) on that list.
The Indians drafted another high school bat in Round 2, selecting infielder Nolan Jones of Holy Ghost Prep in Bensalem, Pa., with the 55th overall pick, then added Oregon State catcher Logan Ice at 72nd (Lottery Round B). The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
Benson is a 6-foot-6, 220-pound outfielder and first baseman. The left-handed-swinging slugger hit .454 (44-for-97) with eight home runs, 11 doubles, 41 RBIs and a 1.380 OPS for the Wildcats, who won a state title for the first time since 1975. In 35 games in his final high school season, Benson drew 29 walks, stole 11 bases and struck out 11 times.
"We see Will as a five-tool right fielder," Grant said. "He's a guy that we feel is going to hit for average and hit for power. He's got power to all fields, and they travel a long way. On top of that, he's a solid-average runner. He's got a plus arm and solid defensive skills out in right field."
Given his stature, and the fact that he hails from Atlanta, Benson has naturally been compared to Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, the Braves' first-round selection in 2007 out of Henry County High School in the Atlanta area.
"It's an honor to have that comparison," Benson said. "I think defensively, that's a good comparison. I think we both have a lot of range and can throw the ball really well. I think offensively, I can possibly do better. That's no discredit to what Jason Heyward has done. He's a monster on the offensive end. He's always on base and he can hit for average. But, I think I can hit for a little bit more power."
Benson was named to the 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game All-American First Team, and appeared in the 2015 Team USA Baseball Tournament of Stars summer showcase, as well as the Under Armour All-American Game in August at Wrigley Field. As a member of the Team USA 18-and-under team, Benson also took part in the WBSC Baseball World Cup in Nishinomiya, Japan.
Entering the Draft, Benson was ranked as the 38th-best prospect by MLB.com.
He also had a commitment to play baseball at Duke, but those plans have changed under the circumstances.
"I'm definitely going to sign," Benson said at the Draft. "I'm definitely going to Cleveland. That's without a doubt."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.