The Boston Red Sox have signed Andrew Benintendi, their first-round draft pick. Although Major League Baseball draftees do not often have an immediate impact, Brandon Magee explains why Benintendi could have an impact sooner than most.
On Tuesday, June 30th, the Boston Red Sox announced the signing of Andrew Benintendi, the seventh overall pick of the 2015 MLB first-year player draft. Benintendi lit up the stat lines for the University of Arkansas this season, batting .376/.488/.717 with 20 home runs, 24 stolen bases, and 50 walks – all while striking out only 32 times. Benintendi was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year, Baseball America Player of the Year, as well as being named to the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA), Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball’s All-American squads. As if those awards were not impressive enough, he was also the recipient of the two most prestigious awards for amateur baseball – the Dick Howser Trophy, given to the national college baseball player of the year; and the Golden Spikes Award, given to the best amateur baseball player in the United States.
The Golden Spikes Award was established in 1978 and honored nine collegiate baseball players before the introduction of the Dick Howser Trophy in 1987. Since that time, they have each honored 29 players, with 17 of those players winning both awards. In the first twelve years of the Dick Howser Trophy, it was the ABCA who did the voting. During that time, only four players have shared the Dick Howser Trophy and the Golden Spikes Award: Robin Ventura in 1988, Alex Fernandez in 1990, Jason Varitek in 1994 and J.D. Drew in 1997. Since 1999, the NCBWA has taken over the voting for the Howser with 13 of the 17 recipients sharing the award with the Golden Spikes.
The only outfielder to win both prior to Benintendi was Drew, who accomplished the feat in his junior year at Florida State University in 1997. Drew batted an otherworldly .455/.599/.961 with 31 home runs, 32 stolen bases and 84 walks for the Seminoles. He was selected as the second overall pick of the 1997 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Unable to come to contract terms with Philadelphia, Drew instead made his professional debut for the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. In 70 games over parts of two seasons, Drew hit .359/.468/.725 with 27 home runs. He was selected fifth in the 1998 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals where he quickly signed. Drew made his major league debut later that year and became a regular for the Cardinals the next season. Drew finished his 14-season major league career in 2011; batting .278/.384/.489 with 242 home runs and an All-Star Game MVP award.
Robin Ventura, the first double winner in 1988, batted .391/.508/.766 with 26 home runs for the Oklahoma State Sooners. Ventura was drafted by the Chicago White Sox as the tenth overall pick. However, Ventura did not begin his professional career until 1989, spending the summer and early fall of 1988 competing with USA Baseball and winning a Gold Medal in the Seoul Olympics. Ventura played one season of AA ball in 1989 before earning a September call-up. He became the White Sox regular third baseman in 1990. In his sixteen-year playing career, Ventura batted .267/.362/.444 with two All-Star nods and six Gold Glove Awards.
The final non-pitcher double recipient in the ABCA era of the Dick Howser Trophy was Jason Varitek, who won both awards in 1994. After a spectacular 1993 season for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in 1993 (.404/.494/.798), Varitek was drafted as the 21st pick by the Minnesota Twins. Unable to come to contract terms, Varitek returned to Georgia Tech where he hit .426/.560/.731 with 17 home runs and 76 walks. Drafted by the Seattle Mariners with the 14th pick, the two sides could not come to an agreement until the following April. Varitek spent two seasons in AA Port City before moving up to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers for the 1997 season. After being traded to the Red Sox at the deadline along with Derek Lowe, Varitek would make his major league debut in September. He became a regular in 1998. Over his fifteen year career, Varitek batted .256/.341/.435 with 193 home runs, three All-Star Game appearances and a gold glove.
Between 1999 and 2013, eleven more players won both the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award – five pitchers, two catchers, two middle infielders and two third baseman. Every single one made the majors. With the exception of pitcher Jason Jennings (1999), pitcher Mark Prior (2001) and shortstop Khalil Greene (2002), all the players are still active. The three other pitchers – Jered Weaver, David Price and Stephen Strasburg – have all earned All-Star appearances amongst their accolades.
Quickly becoming a player in MLB is one of the trends of the dual winners. The 2003 winner Rickie Weeks made his MLB debut that same year, and became a permanent part of the Milwaukee Brewers by 2005. Alex Gordon, who won two years after Weeks, played only one season in the minors, debuting for the Kansas City Royals in 2007. While he had his struggles at 3rd base, Gordon has since won four consecutive Gold Gloves for his defense in left field and played in two All-Star Games. Buster Posey, who won the awards in 2008, spent 125 games in the minors before making his MLB debut for the San Francisco Giants in September 2009. He became a permanent part of the Giants team the next season, winning the Rookie of the Year and picking up an MVP award two seasons later.
Mike Zunino and Kris Bryant, who won the awards in 2012 and 2013, also quickly ascended the minor league ranks. Zunino spent less than 100 games in the minors before being called up to the Seattle Mariners in 2013. He became the starting catcher for the team the next season. Kris Bryant spent a season and a half in the Cubs system, pounding out 55 home runs before debuting in April of this season. Bryant has quickly become an integral part of the Cubs lineup, batting .275/.381/.466 with ten home runs this season. Last years winner, A.J. Reed, who won for both his batting and pitching prowess for the University of Kentucky, is also making quick strides in the Houston Astros system.This season in Lancaster, of the High-A California League, Reed is batting .335/.440/.606 with 19 home runs and 53 walks.
Being a dual winner of the prestigious Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award brings with it a heavy burden – a burden of excellence. All fifteen winners prior to 2014 have made it to the major leagues quickly, and with great success and longevity. All-Star Games, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, Rookie of the Year and MVP awards are some of the hardware picked up by these collegiate greats. Benintendi is the latest in the line and the Red Sox certainly believe that he will become another quick riser to the major leagues. His journey begins now.