FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The 10-letter last name barely fits across the back of the jersey for the diminutive center fielder the Red Sox took with the seventh overall pick in last June's Draft.But Andrew Benintendi's overall fit for baseball seems to be perfect -- unlike his first love, which
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The 10-letter last name barely fits across the back of the jersey for the diminutive center fielder the Red Sox took with the seventh overall pick in last June's Draft.
But Andrew Benintendi's overall fit for baseball seems to be perfect -- unlike his first love, which he acknowledges he was just too small to play for a living.
When did Benintendi -- who is perhaps generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds -- go all in on his quest to be a professional baseball player?
"Probably freshman year of high school," Benintendi said. "My favorite sport back then was basketball. ... I'm not the tallest guy, so that kind of put some restrictions on what I could do basketball-wise. I think baseball was really reality when I was a freshman in high school."
And why not? Benintendi's freshman spring of high school was 2010, two years after Dustin Pedroia (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) won the American League's Most Valuable Player Award for the Red Sox
"That's the beautiful thing about baseball," Benintendi said. "You can be any size and be successful. I can't do much about my height but I can do a lot of things, in strength and speed and work on that. I'm going to try to do that the best I can to make me a better ballplayer."
Few could have anticipated how swiftly Benintendi's stock would rise after his mediocre freshman season at Arkansas, when he hit .276 with one home run.
But that was followed by a prolific sophomore season, which wound up being the end of his college career. Many evaluators felt Benintendi was the best position player in college last year, and he won virtually every award that could recognize that.
The left-handed hitter raised his average 100 points to .376, while belting 20 homers, stealing 24 bases and putting together a 1.205 OPS that vaulted the Razorbacks to the College World Series.
"I wouldn't say a breakthrough," said Benintendi. "I know my freshman year, I think I was trying to be a different kind of player than what I had been in years previous to that. Last year I just tried to focus on hitting the ball hard and squaring everything up, and fortunately enough, balls would fall and I did pretty well."
The 21-year-old Benintendi enters this season as one of the most highly touted prospects in the game. MLB Pipeline lists him at 25th overall, fifth among outfielders and No. 3 in the Red Sox's farm system.
"Obviously, to be that high up on those lists is an honor," said Benintendi. "There's a lot of good players on there. I try not to pay attention to that and just go play baseball and only control the things I can control."
What Benintendi loves to control are his at-bats.
"I wouldn't describe myself as a home run hitter," Benintendi said. "I'm just trying to hit the ball hard in the gaps. Just backspinning baseballs and hitting line drives. I've still got a lot to work on. I've always been gifted and I've been very blessed with my tools that I've been given."
How does Benintendi put so much authority on the baseball with such a small frame?
"It's hard to put a finger on that one," said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. "I think natural ability and he does a good job getting loft on the ball and he's got a really short swing and great bat speed."
Benintendi's adjustment to pro ball last summer looked virtually seamless, as he hit .290 in 35 games at short-season Lowell and .351 at Class A Greenville.
"I think the SEC [South Eastern Conference] really prepared me for professional baseball," Benintendi said. "Seeing guys like Carson Fulmer in the SEC, I think he was the eighth overall pick [by the White Sox]. Seeing those guys really helped make the transition not as hard.
"The biggest adjustment I think was swinging the wood bat. I had swung the wood bat for three summers, but it had been a while. I had noticed when I was in Lowell, the first week or two, I was getting jammed a lot, so I had to make a little adjustment there and just work on that a little bit."
Look for Benintendi to move up to Class A Advanced Salem (Carolina League) to start the season, and don't be surprised if he advances to Double-A Portland before long. When will Benintendi be able to put his gap-to-gap approach on display full-time at Fenway Park?
"It's not up to me. I'm just going to go play," Benintendi said. "When they decide I'm ready, that will be the time. I can only control what I can control, and that's to go play hard every day."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.