Andrew was both an outfielder/pitcher in baseball and a guard in basketball in high school, scoring the most career points in school history.
In 2013, Benintendi graduated from Madeira High School in Cincinnati. He passed up his hometown Reds in June, when they drafted him in the 31st round. Instead, Andrew went to the University of Arkansas on a baseball scholarship.
But the Arkansas coaching staff encouraged the center fielder to not play baseball after a freshman year in which he was limited by wrist and hamstring injuries. They encouraged him instead to work out and gain strength.
If Benintendi did so, the staff thought, he would take a considerable step forward in his sophomore year that might position him to be a top pick in the 2016 draft.
Benintendi followed the plan, adding what he estimated to be about 15 pounds of muscle. That led to a breakout 2015 campaign that included a NCAA Division I-leading 19 home runs on top of a .380/.489/.715 batting line and 23 steals.
- June 2015: The Red Sox chose Benintendi with their first round pick, out of Arkansas. He was the 7th player chosen, overall. And he signed three weeks later for an on-slot $3,590,400.
In 2015, Baseball America named Benintendi as their college baseball Player of the Year. Benintendi, who was the seventh overall pick in the MLB draft by the Boston Red Sox, was in the midst of a fantastic season in which he is tied for the lead nationally in home runs and is third in the nation with a .715 slugging percentage. He also had 55 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. To put simply, he has the complete package. Benintendi was the first player in Arkansas history to ever win this award.
Benintendi enjoyed a legendary high school career in the suburbs of Cincinnati before tearing it up in Fayetteville, AR. The “Ohio Hit King” has unorthodox speed and power for a kid who’s relatively small at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. But despite his resume, coaches say he keeps a good attitude. “I mean, his teammates love him. They all pull for him,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn told Baseball America. “You can just tell. All he ever talks about is the team and winning. He’s pretty humble. And it’s good to see. And the players have appreciated how he’s handled (the draft), and they’re excited about it.” (Dan Stack/June 11, 2015)
Benintendi left Arkansas as the most prolific award-winner in school history. He won the Golden Spikes Award, Dick Howser Award, Collegiate Baseball Magazine Player of the Year and Baseball America Player of the Year. He led the Southeastern Conference in home runs (20), batting average (.376), slugging (.717), on-base (.488), and walks (55) and was top 25 in the country in each category, as well.
- 2015: Benintendi was named the top Southeastern Conference male athlete by the league's athletic directors.
Commissioner Greg Sankey announced the 2014-2015 Roy F. Kramer SEC Male Athlete of the Year honor.
Before the 2015 season, Andrew took time off from summer ball and committed himself in the weight room, packing on about 10 pounds. “I approached it like a job this summer, really,” Benintendi said. “I just dedicated myself to getting bigger and stronger.”
Benintendi is very even-keeled. He remains calm in all circumstances, it seems. He has a quiet confidence.
August 2015: Andrew Benintendi could be overwhelmed by the pressure. He could allow the expectations of being a first round pick with a $3.6 million signing bonus weigh on his mind. He could be bothered by the doubters who — even after he was selected 2015 NCAA college baseball Player of the Year by four different publications — still wonder out loud how the Red Sox could be so thrilled by a fairly unimpressive-looking 5-foot-10, 180-pounder.
Even if he did lead the nation with 20 home runs in the spring of 2015. But instead, Benintendi simply exudes swagger as he exits the batting cage at LeLacheur Park, his confident smile shining as bright as the blazing hot August sun.
“It just seems like nothing bothers him,” said Lowell Spinners hitting coach Iggy Suarez. “I can only image the pressure all that hype brings. But he is so low key. I remember meeting him when he got here and thinking, ‘How is he so calm? I thought I was under a lot of pressure.’”
“I have always had extremely high expectations for myself,” said Benintendi while with the Lowell Spinners in 2015. “But I don’t think I could have predicted all of this so soon. This year has been fantastic, and playing professional baseball is a dream come true.”
Benintendi grew up a passionate Cincinnati Reds fan, living just 10 minutes from the team’s home, the Great American Ball Park. Like so many youngsters, as a child Benintendi was dazzled by the play of the man patrolling center field for the Reds—the iconic Ken Griffey Jr.
“Griffey was my hero,” said Benintendi. “His swing was just so smooth and effortless. It was like the ball just jumped off his bat. And he was so cool.”
As a senior at Madeira High School in Cincinnati, Benintendi hit .564 with 12 home runs, 57 RBIs and 38 stolen bases, winning ABCA/Rawlings National High School Player of the Year. He was then selected by the Reds in the 31st round of the 2013 draft, but elected not to sign.
“I knew right away I was going to college,” he said. “I think I was asking for too much money, so after the first two rounds I knew I was going to Arkansas.”
In 2015, Benintendi led the nation with 20 home runs, hitting .376 with 57 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. As he was delivering his monster season, Boston quickly emerged as a favorite destination. And when the draft arrived, the Red Sox picked him seventh overall. He signed with scout Chris Mears.
“I was so happy the Red Sox picked me,” he said. “The Sox, Cubs and Astros were really the teams that stood out. Boston was definitely where I wanted to go. I was in the locker room watching the draft after we won the NCAA Super Regionals. My parents and teammates were there and to hear my name was amazing.”
Benintendi dominated the college baseball awards season after a monster 2015. Here are the awards he took home:
— Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year
— Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year
— Golden Spikes Player of the Year
— SEC Male Athlete of the Year
— Dick Howser Trophy (considered the Heisman Trophy of baseball)
— Baseball America National Player of the Year
In 2016, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Benintendi as the 3rd best prospect in the Red Sox organization. But they moved Andrew up to #1 prospect in the spring of 2017.
- Andrew is so small that his last name is difficult to squeeze on the shoulder/back of his uniform.
Andrew's overall fit for baseball seems to be perfect—unlike his first love (basketball), 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 MVP 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. 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 2015, and he won virtually every award that could recognize that.
"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."
"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." (Browne - MLB.com - 3/7/16)
In Spring Training 2016, 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 in 2015, looked virtually seamless. "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."
When will he be ready for the Big Leagues? "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." (Browne - MLB.com - 3/6/16)
April-May, 2016: Benintendi strung together an impressive 23-game hitting streak for the Salem Red Sox (CAR). It tied the Salem franchise record set by Art Howe of the 1971 Salem Rebels.
Andrew was being aggressive. He didn't get into many 2-strike counts during the streak.
"But when I do get to a two-strike count, I try to shorten up and just put the ball in play. If a pitcher makes a good pitch, I just try to foul it off and just wait 'til he makes a mistake," Benintendi said.
June 28, 2016: Benintendi was chosen to represent the Red Sox at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in San Diego.
August 3, 2016: If Andrew remained calm on the outside after striking his first Major League hit, a laser single to left in the third inning, his family members let the emotion flow in their seats behind home plate. Chris Benintendi, Andrew's dad, raised his arms in triumph and stayed in that pose for a while. Jill, Andrew's mother, hugged nearby family members.
"That was a lot of fun," said Chris Benintendi. "He played well, number one, but he was able to share this experience with 18 people here from Cincinnati and countless others back home watching it on TV so it was great."
It was a moment nobody in the family will ever forget, and the only bummer was that the Red Sox took a 3-1 loss to the Mariners. On a night Boston produced just seven hits, two came from Benintendi, who also laced a single to right in the eighth.
"It felt good to get it out of the way," said Andrew Benintendi. "I don't really know how to explain it. Just one of those things you dream about your entire life. Got to first base, and it kind of set in. It was really exciting."
Just 14 months after he was drafted by the Red Sox, it's a bit surreal for Benintendi and his family that he's in the Major Leagues and ready to help out in a pennant race. Would the word ecstatic accurately sum up the way the family felt when Andrew Benintendi was summoned to the Major Leagues earlier this week?
"I guess you could say that. I think we all were," said Chris. "Quite honestly, we're thrilled with Andrew because this was a goal of his and he accomplished a goal and it's no different than our daughters accomplishing a goal they have in mind or quite frankly many parents have kids that do things that they set out to do and they probably feel the same pride that Jill and I feel tonight."
Benintendi was pleased to give his cheering section a reason to applaud.
"Some of them flew up this morning, and they're flying out tonight, so I've had a support system like that my entire life, whether it be high school or college," Benintendi said. "I'm really not surprised they made the long trip out here from Cincinnati and I'm grateful that they did." (Browne - MLB.com)
When Andrew was 5 years old, his father, Chris, took him out on the acre the family owned in southwest Ohio to practice shagging fly balls. Chris Benintendi would grab a tennis ball and a racquet, hitting the ball as hard as he could. His firstborn would leg out the high flies, catching them nearly every time.
Chris Benintendi, a partner at a Cincinnati law firm, never suspected his only son would make it this far. "Looking back, maybe he was showing us some special things, but we didn't know it," Chris said. "We just thought it was kind of cool." "They were just out playing ball," Jill Benintendi said of the days her husband and son spent in the backyard with the tennis ball. "But now, you do look at it and you go, 'What other 5-year-old … ?'"
If her little tyke was abnormally athletic, odds are that Jill herself probably had something to do with it. She and her husband were both varsity athletes in high school, she on the hardwood and he manning the hot corner. One of Chris Benintendi's sisters, too, is a former college basketball standout. And while Chris Benintendi can't say he's always seen his son as Major League material, he thinks Andrew's athletic aptitude has always been around.
"He's not a kid that you would look at and say, 'This guy looks like a professional baseball player,'" Chris said of Andrew. "But he's athletic, and he's always been athletic, even as a small child. When he was a baby, he'd pick up a ball and shoot into a little hoop. Then we started swinging a bat when he was a little bit older."
And to John Kelly, it was apparent from a young age that Andrew had the intangible qualities sport often requires. A Wittenburg University teammate and 30-year friend of Chris Benintendi's, Kelly coached 8-year-old Andrew on a travel baseball team known as the Madeira Crew. "He was incredibly coachable," Kelly said. "Even at that age, the other players looked up to him. They knew how talented he was. He was the best player on the team; more than that, he was the smartest player on the team."
Andrew's work ethic, too, was second to none. "He had a drive within himself to where, I think, he wanted to be the best, whether he wanted to be the best 7-year-old, the best 10-year-old, the best 18-year-old [player]," Chris Benintendi said. "You wouldn't know it because he's not very outspoken, but we would know."
And Jill recalls her son hitting the gym at Madeira High School to shoot hoops for a half hour before classes started, in hopes of making the basketball team as a freshman. Not only did Andrew, then 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds, make the team, but he smashed records as a four-year varsity starter. And he remains Madeira High's all-time leading scorer by 298 points, as well as the school leader in three-pointers, steals and free throws. In his junior year, he was an Ohio Division III co-Player of the Year.
To hear Jim Reynolds, who coached the high school basketball team for 25 years, tell it, Benintendi always stayed even-keeled. Plus, Reynolds said, his skills were just plain impressive. That brought to mind a comment from an opposing coach. "'Man, that kid can play,'" Reynolds remembers being told.
His response? "You should see him play baseball." (Zahneis - MLB.com - 8/8/16)
Feb 24, 2017: He is here from the beginning this season, and Andrew Benintendi could make it one to remember. No Red Sox player has won the American League Rookie of the Year Award since Dustin Pedroia 10 years ago. And perhaps no Boston player was as well-positioned to win the award in the last decade as Benintendi is now.
"I don't think about it at all," Benintendi said. "I think that's all for other people to look at. That's all talk. I've just got to go out and play well. That's what it comes down to. I don't pay attention to that and don't let it get to me."
That's exactly the kind of attitude that can lead to a Rookie of the Year season, as Pedroia knows full well.
"He acts 32," Pedroia of the 22-year-old outfielder, who's ranked as baseball's No. 1 overall prospect by MLBPipeline.com. "Just the presence he has, he's always under control. He controls his at-bats. He's going to be good for a long time."
"He carries himself extremely well," said Red Sox lefty David Price. "He doesn't ever look overwhelmed. Not once did he ever have the deer in the headlights look last year, whether it was in the field, in the box, in the clubhouse, in the dugout. He knows he belongs here. It's going to be fun to watch."
The reason Benintendi is still considered a rookie is because he had 105 at-bats, 25 lower than the threshold.In truth, Price stopped thinking of Benintendi as a rookie during the prospect's first at-bat in his first Major League start on Aug. 3 at Seattle. Facing Hisashi Iwakuma, Benintendi stayed back and laced a single to left in the third inning.
"Junkball righty pitching, and the pitch is probably more in than it is away, and he shoots it to left," said Price. "That right there tells you something, doing that in your first big league action, when everybody wants to get the head out in their first couple of at-bats and do something special that way. To see him do that on a pitch that he could have got the head out on to take that single to left, that tells you he's not 22 in that box. He's well beyond his years."
Though he is a natural center fielder, Benintendi will again guard the Green Monster in left field in Boston's talented outfield that also includes Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. Left field has been a position of legends for the Red Sox, from Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski to Jim Rice to Manny Ramirez. "Jim Rice told me last year, 'Left fielders are people who hit home runs, so you have some shoes to fill,'" said Benintendi. "I'll just try to go in and do as best I can."
In truth, Benintendi appears more on the track of left-handed hitters who used an inside-out swing to put up big batting average and doubles while playing at Fenway Park. Fred Lynn and Wade Boggs are two that come to mind."I love hitting in Fenway," said Benintendi. "You hit a popup and sometimes it's off the wall where it would be an out somewhere else."
The No. 7 pick in the 2015 Draft out of Arkansas, Benintendi could emerge into a 15-20-homer type of guy, or perhaps even a few more. "Still working," Benintendi said. "I'm still getting bigger and stronger. Definitely looking forward to putting on some muscle and hitting balls farther." (I Browne - MLB.com - Feb 24, 2017)
As a child, Andrew would build confidence in his Madeira, Ohio, backyard with some big rips against his favorite batting practice pitcher -- his father Chris. But after some good rounds, Chris Benintendi would go from mere BP pitcher to "The Big Texan."
"We'd always go out back when I was a kid and throw tennis balls," said Andrew Benintendi. "He'll tell you that he was throwing them pretty hard. He would call himself, 'The Big Texan.' I don't know why, but it kind of stuck and he's been kind of my hitting coach, I guess, growing up. I never really had an instructor or anything."
When "The Big Texan" memory was relayed to Chris Benintendi, there was a chuckle. "Funny," said Chris Benintendi. "Brings back good memories. After Andrew would get some good swings in, I would summon 'The Big Texan' to come in and heat things up. The first pitch would invariably go behind Andrew's back. In thinking back, the name was likely a reference to the big fireballer from Texas, Nolan Ryan. It seemed back in the day Ryan was the only guy who could bring it to the upper 90s or even 100 [mph]. Now those guys are all over the MLB. Of course, my impersonation of Ryan was topping out at 62 [mph]."
During Andrew's formative years, Chris did his best to prepare his son to not only reach his dream of playing in the Major Leagues, but succeeding at it. Andrew estimates that his father coached his teams from age 8 to 13.
"More than anything, he stressed the mental side of the game," said Andrew Benintendi. "It is what it is what you do when you play, but he would teach me just to mentally stay there. That's probably what he preached the most."Clearly, it rubbed off. When you see Benintendi on a daily basis in the Red Sox's clubhouse, it's all but impossible to tell if he's on a hot streak or a cold streak or just chugging along. The expression on his face hardly changes.
"I think my impact on Andrew, probably more than anything, is just the emotional part of things, handling success and failure," said Chris Benintendi. Chris was able to push his son while also striking the right balance. "He's awesome," said Andrew. "He's been involved in pretty much everything I've done, whether it be baseball, basketball or whatever. He's just been involved and supportive all the way through."
"He'll usually text me after a game," said Andrew. "When I was going through that rough patch a couple of weeks ago, he would just give me little reminders. Nothing serious. He would tell me I was getting out in front and things like that. Nothing too serious." (Browne - mlb.com - 6/15/17)
One of the big thrills of the 2017 season for Andrew's father Chris was going to Fenway Park for Opening Day and sitting in the front row of the Green Monster Seats at Fenway. Andrew had the biggest hit in that win for the Red Sox, a three-run homer.
"It was a day we'll never forget," said Chris. "It was a great time." (Browne - mlb.com - 6/15/17)