Benson 'playing with a lot of confidence' as he opens spring with HR

February 24th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- couldn't help it. Even in a Spring Training game, the Reds' outfielder was caught up in the moment.

In the fourth inning of Saturday's 4-0 Cincinnati win over the Guardians, Benson tattooed a 2-1 pitch over the plate from Adam Oller. It was launched over the right-field fence for a no-doubt solo home run that snapped the scoreless tie.

"I knew the angle right away," Benson said after exiting the game.

Immediately after contact, Benson flipped his bat in excitement. While not nearly as dramatic as his first big league homer, a walk-off drive vs. the Dodgers on June 7, it still felt good.

"It’s the same angle. A lot of my reaction is simply being in the zone," Benson said. "You’re getting a real treat. Even I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes."

"What a great swing," Reds manager David Bell said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence already in Spring Training. It's great to have it show up in a game."

Benson, 25, is in a different situation than one year ago. The Reds acquired him from Cleveland in a Feb. 8, 2023, trade for Minor Leaguers Justin Boyd and Steve Hajjar just before camp opened. He had to play his way onto the team last spring.

This spring, there is still competition on the Reds for outfield roster spots, but Benson appears to have more of an inside track -- especially based on his performance last season.

"I’m very grateful for that. But I don’t like to pay attention too much to it," Benson said. "I still want to solidify who I am as a baseball player, and to them as well. I don’t want to put any extra pressure on it. I want to be the best player I can possibly be and lead by my actions.”

Over his first 10 games in two big league stints last season, Benson went 1-for-25 (.040) with 14 strikeouts. But things started clicking upon his recall from Triple-A Louisville on May 26. He hit .298 with 11 homers, 31 RBIs and a .931 OPS over his next 98 games.

The way Benson ended the year helped him go into the offseason with more confidence and allowed him to focus more on 2024.

“I think last year gave me a base to know this works, the routine works, approach works, mindset works -- let’s just go and repeat it and do it as often as I can," he said. "I think it really simplified my offseason so I can be consistent and narrow-focused.”

Since he was Cleveland's first-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, Benson has a track record of being better his second season for a team. Things seem to feel easier, as does his performance.

"Me knowing me and who I am, being conformable, being in a very similar situation, I thank God and I keep my head down so I can really do it again and build on it," Benson said. "There’s more information for me to grow and learn. I’ll be in a very comfortable setting doing that."

Worth noting
The Reds added a second title for game planning coach Jeff Pickler during the offseason. Pickler is also now a bench coach. Since Freddie Benavides also has that title already, Bell will have two bench coaches this season.

"They’re both really important to our team, really important to me," Bell said. "But they do different things. Pick is solely focused on the infield and he plays a really big role in helping prepare for our pregame meetings. He’s a trusted perspective during the game."

Bell wanted Pickler's role, and spot next to him in the dugout, to be more defined. Benavides will also be stationed next to Bell.

“If anything, I’ve increased Freddie’s role probably more than anything," Bell said. "He’s an extension of me on everything. He’s still involved in the game strategy but everything else I do, Freddie is a big part of that -- player communication, team fundamental stuff -- it’s nice. It’s two of us teaming up to do a lot of the same kind of work.”