Is Will Benson Ready to Break Out?

Will Benson (from July 2017 with Mahoning Valley) - photo credit Jeffrey Hyde on Flickr, @jeffhyde on Twitter, @milbgrammer on Instagram

Will Benson has been an enigmatic prospect since he was scooped up by the Indians in the first round (14th overall) of the 2016 Amateur Draft. A basketball standout in high school, Benson’s athleticism has never been in doubt, but his ability to make contact and adjust to the sport that has played second fiddle to hoops his entire life has. The best tools in his shed are his plus raw power and speed, and those tools kept him at #14 in my Top 50 Indians Prospects despite a .180 average and a 30.0 K% last year at Lake County. Despite the contact issues, Benson was still able to swat 22 long balls and swipe 12 bases in 2018 while walking at a decent clip as well.

Benson recently made headlines after a monster 4 homer, 8 RBI game for Lake County. The Indians sent him back to Low-A to continue to work on his contact issues and thus far he has enjoyed the beginning of his second season there, batting .345 with a .446 OBP and an eye popping .782 SLG and 1.228 OPS with 6 HR and 7 SB’s in 55 AB. When a player hits 4 HR in a game at any level, it always grabs the attention of the fantasy baseball community and for good reason.  This is a player who oozes athleticism that falls well outside the Top 200 prospects,  one who is still very young and raw trying to get to his plus tools while making the adjustment to being a full time baseball player. There’s no doubt he’s gotten off to a torrid start, but has Benson turned a corner with his approach and is it sustainable?

While the sample is very small so far, a peek under the hood shows us that the issues that have plagued Benson thus far have still not disappeared. The .345 AVG is buoyed by an insane .565 BABIP, while his K% is worse than ever at 40%. In his 4 seasons since being drafted, Benson has not had a K% under 30%.  That said, he is still just 20 years old and we will hopefully see growth as a hitter and an improved approach in his repeat of Low-A.

Games like the one Benson enjoyed this April do not grow on trees even in the minor leagues, with the last one coming way back in 2014:

Last 10 4-HR Games in MiLB
4-18-2019: Will Benson
5-25-2014: Mike Ford
5-21-2014: Jon Griffin
6-10-2013: Javier Baez
5-14-2011: Michael Aubrey
8-09-2008: Micah Hoffpauir
6-23-2007: Brad Correll
5-19-2007: Aaron Bates
8-07-2006: Alexis Gomez
7-28-2006: Ryan Harvey

The other thing that stands out is that besides Javier Baez, none of these players ever played a significant role on a major league team, with Ford having just been promoted to the Yankees. That isn’t to say Benson is destined to crash and burn, but the low minors are a place where power over hit tool guys can have a monster game but eventually have their flaws exposed over the course of a full season or at the higher levels. It is interesting that Javier Baez is on this list, as he possesses incredible raw power and speed but posted some obscene K-rates in the minors and majors before breaking out at the age of 25.

The Indians knew when they drafted Benson that he would be a slow burn but that hopefully with hard work their patience would pay off. So far in 2019 we have seen some good things, just remember to peek under the hood at the underlying numbers to see if Benson is making the adjustments needed and improving his approach or just taking advantage of inexperienced pitchers his second time through the league.

John Stewart is a graphic & website designer, event promoter, and baseball enthusiast based in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been obsessed with minor league baseball since childhood, as the AAA Louisville Redbirds (now the Louisville Bats) were the only local team...which is still the case today. Now a season ticket holder, John enjoys watching top prospects as they come through town, as well as purchasing far too much cotton candy for his kids throughout the baseball season. Follow John on Twitter at @jonance.

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