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Nearly a Duke hoopster, Benson embracing the process

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

DAYTON, Ohio -- The month of March was rough for Indians outfield prospect Will Benson.

There wasn't an injury and it wasn't like Cleveland's No. 7 prospect struggled during Spring Training. No, it had nothing to do with baseball; it had everything to do with March Madness.

DAYTON, Ohio -- The month of March was rough for Indians outfield prospect Will Benson.

There wasn't an injury and it wasn't like Cleveland's No. 7 prospect struggled during Spring Training. No, it had nothing to do with baseball; it had everything to do with March Madness.

"It sucked, because I knew I could help Duke win it all," said Benson, a basketball standout in high school who would have walked on with the Blue Devils on the court had he not signed. "I'm kidding. But March was a tough time, especially seeing my Dukies lose.

"I miss basketball, 100 percent. It will always be my one and first true love, honestly. I'll be a basketball guy until the day I die, but I'm continuing to grow and love baseball even more now, so it's pretty awesome."

Indians' Top 30 list | Top prospects stats

Benson's skills in his chosen sport have grown as well. Both he and the Indians knew it might take some time for the big outfielder to figure things out when they took him in the first round in 2016, given his split focus across two sports in high school. Both team and player knew he might not go to a full-season club in 2017, his first full year of pro ball. Instead, Benson hung back at the Indians' Arizona facility and went to Class A Short-Season Mahoning Valley, where he showed off power (10 homers in 202 at-bats) and a propensity to swing-and-miss (80 strikeouts).

"Going into it, I was pretty clear with the Indians that it was going to be a process and I wanted to take the best route and make sure I would be the best possible player I could be," Benson said. "They fully understood that and we've both been in cooperation with that. I've been working hard; that extra summer was needed. I think it benefited me heavily, gaining connection with coaches who started to understand who I am as a player and what I wanted to be and helped get me to where I am right now.

"I think extended spring allowed me to continue to understand who I am as a baseball player. Coming up, baseball really wasn't my first sport. Coming into it, I was really good at it, but I hadn't reached my full potential. I'm still trying to figure that out and that summer was a big step in me figuring that stuff out."

Video: Top Prospects: Will Benson, OF, Indians

One of those coaches is Pete Lauritson, Benson's hitting coach in Mahoning Valley and now again in his full-season debut with Lake County in the Midwest League. He has worked tirelessly with Lauritson to refine his craft at the plate. Sometimes a light bulb has gone off and sometimes it's been more of a slow burn.

"It's an overall approach, an overall comfort I'm starting to feel that I didn't feel before and that's starting to help me move the ball to different parts of the field and become a better overall hitter," Benson said. "Big shouts to Pete Lauritson, our hitting coach. I think I had quite a few 'a-ha' moments with him. And being in the Indians organization, there's always gradual progress. Going back to last summer, there was a really good mixture of 'a-ha' moments and gradual progress and it was kind of cool to really understand baseball at a deeper level than I ever had before."

That work has already shown up in the early going of the Midwest League season. All of Benson's 10 home runs in 2017 went to his pull side. His first two long balls with Lake County have gone the other way, to left field, and he's cut his strikeout rate and upped his walk rate a bit over his first nine games.

"Yes, I did work on that in the offseason, but it was more just becoming a better overall hitter," Benson said. "Like I said Pete Lauritson, me and him have had some 'a-ha' moments. A lot of that transpired over the course of the offseason, even during Spring Training and even the beginning of this season. Some of those moments have opened up my swing a little bit more to different parts of the field."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Cleveland Indians