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Andrew Benintendi Poised to Become MLB's Next Rookie Superstar

This winter, most of the Boston Red Sox-related headlines have been about prospects leaving town. Most notably, the Red Sox shipped a gaggle of young talent to the Chicago White Sox in the Chris Sale trade, including five-tool Cuban Yoan Moncada.

There are still blue chips left on Boston's table, however. One of them appears poised to win a starting job out of spring training and become MLB's latest rookie star.

I'm speaking, in case that headline and photo up there didn't give the game away, about Andrew Benintendi

In 34 games with the Red Sox last season, Benintendi flashed big-time potential, posting a .295/.359/.476 slash line with 11 doubles, a triple and two home runs.

He also provided one of the few bright spots in Boston's division series sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians when he homered in Game 1:

The seventh overall pick in 2015, the 22-year-old looks like the odds-on favorite to claim the Sox's starting left field gig. Since he kept his rookie status intact, he's also among the favorites for American League Rookie of the Year honors.

Are we getting ahead of ourselves based on a small sample? Possibly. The list of highly rated prospects who raked on a short audition only to struggle over a full season is long. Somewhere right now, a big league pitcher is studying film of Benintendi's swing and figuring out how to exploit it.

Benintendi, however, has the tools and temperament for sustained success.

In August, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America called him, "one of the most polished hitters of the past few drafts." That was before Benintendi's successful big league debut but after he'd slashed .312/.392/.540 while rocketing through the minors.

He showed excellent plate discipline in his MLB stint, swinging at just 25.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone compared to the league average of 30.3 percent. He barreled up many of the pitches he did swing at, making hard contact 32.9 percent of the time. That compares favorably to fellow Red Sox outfielder and AL MVP runner-up Mookie Betts' hard-contact rate of 33.4 percent.

Skeptics can point to Benintendi's admittedly robust .367 batting average on balls in play, but patient hitters who make loud contact tend to have higher BABIPs. They might also note that the lefty swinger hit .179 against southpaws, though that came in a scant 33 MLB plate appearances.

Steamer projects a .282/.338/.439 slash line with 10 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 2017. Boston would take that, but Benintendi's ceiling is much higher.

The mental aspect of the game is harder to quantify, but it's equally essential for success. In lieu of stats, we'll turn to Red Sox manager John Farrell, who had this to say during the division series, per NESN's Sam Galanis:

[He’s] in the Major League postseason, and much like we talked about what makes a guy wired to perform in postseason, he’s calm. Even before the postseason started, he’s been a guy that’s never really panicked, even when he’s been in a disadvantaged count at the plate. It’s almost like you watch, his athletic movements are graceful. It’s almost like a window into what his mind is going through. It’s even, it’s under control, and he plays like that.

Benintendi made the bulk of his minor league starts in center field, but that position is taken by All-Star Jackie Bradley Jr. Rather, Benintendi will continue to learn the nuances of the Green Monster and join Bradley (age 26) and Betts (age 24) to form one of the most athletic outfield troikas in the game.

They can dance, too. 

The Red Sox didn't sign or trade for a top-tier slugger to replace retired franchise icon David Ortiz. Instead, they added ancillary pieces such as Mitch Moreland, gilded the rotation with Sale and are putting their faith in this young core to carry the offense.

They've got Big Papi's stamp of approval.

"Those are the players you want on your ballclub," Ortiz said of Benintendi, Bradley, Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (the new Killer Bs?), per Ian Browne of MLB.com. "Young, talented, and with that mentality, that's on another level."

Here's an interesting thought experiment: Imagine Benintendi duking it out with Moncada for ROY honors. It's no guarantee, but it's far from far-fetched. 

If it happens, Beantown fans will doubtless feel the sting of watching the stud who changed his Sox. At the same time, they'll be able to take solace in the one who stuck around. 

   

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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