The Boston Red Sox continued their youth movement this week as they promoted one of their top prospects shortly after the non-waiver trade deadline. Dave McCullough examines the last 30 years of Red Sox uber-prospects to give some perspective to the latest generation in light of Andrew Benintendi’s arrival in the big leagues.
The Red Sox have had their share of highly-anticipated rookie debuts: Roger Clemens in 1984, Nomar Garciaparra in 1996, and Dustin Pedroia in 2006 are just a few of the illustrious names to make their major league debut wearing Boston’s laundry. Andrew Benintendi joined the club Tuesday in Seattle – and stroked his first two major league hits a night later. Only time will tell if he joins the list of future All-Star talents to make their debut in a Red Sox uniform.
But along with those legends there have been other, less distinguished names who were also heavily hyped by fans, Peter Gammons, or both. The biggest, most unforgettable name of a prospect who Red Sox fans could not wait to see in a Boston uniform was the immortal Sam Horn. The big fella couldn’t hit the curveball (or much else) but his prodigious power captured the imagination of a generation of Red Sox fans who had fallen in love with baseball in the mid-1980s. You may recognize Sam Horn from his brief career as a NESN analyst, or as the prospect who inspired legions of fans to yell at each other on the internet about whether John Farrell should be fired after almost every defeat.
Another heavily-hyped failure of a Sox prospect was Phil Plantier, who actually thrived in his first exposure to the big leagues. Plantier’s funky batting stance was all the rage at Little League fields in the late summer of 1991, as every young lad looked to copy his look, while everyone over twelve shook their heads in dismay and wondered what was wrong with kids these days. When reached for comment, SoSH Baseball’s Rick Rowand said “get off my lawn you punks. You’re the type of punks who’ll grow up calling for a manager’s head for no reason some day” Oh – well, then.
Finally, we examine the saga of pitcher Aaron Sele, who was the first heavily-hyped starter after Clemens. He ended up breaking a number of hearts, when his blazing fastball and flashy curve failed to make him a superstar in the big leagues. Sele’s emergence came at a time when Sox fans were starved for a new matinee idol, and perhaps fans overlooked some rather large red flags in his minor league performance – but can you blame them? The 1990s were largely a depressing time to be a Sox fan, between the managerial foibles of Butch “Where’s The Coke?” Hobson, and the emergence of Dan “Mr. Robot” Duquette.
Thankfully, the 1990s also produced the prospect by which all others are judged – NOMAH! Yes, the skinny bundle of OCD tics burst onto the scene for Boston in 1996 and proceeded to create a new generation of Sox fans into toe-tapping, glove-adjusting, little league imitators – as well as making several generations of fans swoon with his Roman, aquiline nose and infectious smile.
Now, we come to… whatever we’re calling the period between 2010 and 2020, and a new matinee idol has come to Boston. Andrew Benintendi looks – like Dustin Pedroia – so impossibly young that those of us who grew up with Clemens and Horn and Sele instinctively want to give him a hug and tell him to make it home in time for dinner, because his mother will be worried about him. Take a good look at the young lad:
He’s got the looks. My wife – a Sox fan through and through, and a mother to a young boy – gushed about how cute he is, and how YOUNG! he looks. But the former Arkansas Razorback is already 22 and has ascended the minor league ladder as quickly as anyone since Nomar. SoSH Baseball’s minor league expert, Brandon Magee said “Benintendi is a potential MVP. He has all the tools. His walks have exceeded his strikeouts during his 151 game minor league apprenticeship. He has power (52 of his 116 hits this year have been for extra-bases) and speed (12 triples, 16 steals). In his season-plus in the minors, he committed only a pair of outfield errors but threw out 14 baserunners. With Benintendi joining Betts and Bradley, the Red Sox may have a new troika that have some thinking back to Rice-Lynn-Evans.” Benintendi was not rushed to the big leagues – he earned his quick promotion to The Show, hitting a robust .312/.378/.532 at two levels this season while showing remarkable plate discipline and maturity.
Only time will tell if Benintendi is the new NOMAH or the next Phil Plantier. Either way, the next generation of Sox fans have a new matinee idol to dream about, a new uber-prospect to cheer, and another young star with which to build around – joining previous starlets Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts – the Killer B’s are in place to blossom in Boston.
Dave R. McCullough has written a tribute to Dave Henderson, about baseball’s long season, and about Eduardo Rodriguez’s last start with the Red Sox.
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