BOSTON — Andrew Benintendi calmly walked to the rocket that fell from the front row of the Green Monster. Alex Bregman was circling the bases after lining a two-run homer way over Benintendi's head in left field, a shot that proved the difference in Friday's 3-2 Astros win.
Benintendi picked up the fallen souvenir before chucking it into the stands, creating a moment of draft-class symbolism: from Bregman to Benintendi, one top 2015 pick to another.
It’s easy to imagine a world where Benintendi, the No. 7 pick in '15, and Bregman, the No. 2 pick, are Astros teammates today.
“It was definitely an option for us, that we could have drafted both players,” said Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias, the head of the amateur draft process in Houston. “We liked both players quite a bit. We were in a unique situation that year because we had the two picks [second and fifth overall].
“I can say with all honesty that if [Kyle] Tucker had been gone, like say if the Rangers took him right before us, we take Benintendi.”
As the Astros rebuilt their farm system and created the monster the Sox now have to slay, the ‘Stros wound up two years ago with not one, but two high amateur draft choices: Nos. 2 and 5.
How'd they land the pair? The Astros did not sign their first overall draft pick in 2014 in a medical saga, and received the second pick in '15 as compensation — in addition to their usual pick based on their prior season's performance.
At No. 2, the Astros selected Bregman, a shortstop out of LSU who has Dustin Pedroia-like gamer qualities and top-notch athleticism. He played 155 games this season, most of them at third base, slashing .284/.352/.475 with 19 home runs. (Bregman also happens to be Blake Swihart’s best friend.)
At No. 5 is where history could have changed. The Astros considered Benintendi, and made a phone call to gauge interest on draft day. But the Astros picked a high school outfielder from Florida, Kyle Tucker, instead. Benintendi went to the Sox at No. 7.
“Benintendi was a unique situation because he had burst on to the scene very late for a high-profile college player,” Elias recalled. “You almost never see this, but he was a sophomore, he was draft eligible due to age. He did not play much his freshman year at Arkansas. And then he stayed on campus all summer and worked out. He didn’t play on the Cape, he didn’t play on Team USA. It really wasn’t until the spring got going and he started putting up these ridiculous numbers that he was even on our radar.
“And credit to the Red Sox, I heard that their area scouts did a great job of identifying him as early as the previous fall, and they were able to focus on him early. But we liked him a lot. It was basically between him and Kyle Tucker, who’s doing well for us. We liked the idea of coming away with a polished college player like Bregman and then an upside high school player like Tucker.”
Tucker, 20, has indeed done well for the Astros. He reached Double-A in 2017, and slashed .274/.346/.528 between there and High-A ball. He hit 25 home runs.
“Worked out well for us and worked out well for the Red Sox,” Elias said. “They did a great job getting on him early and really cementing their knowledge about it, where they didn’t have to scout him in a rush at the end.”
The ’15 draft has proven huge for both teams. The extra bonus money the Astros had that year because of those two top-five picks helped them land another top talent who fell in the draft, Daz Cameron, with a later pick. Cameron was then part of the trade for Justin Verlander in August.
Benintendi, meanwhile, finished the year as the second most productive player the Sox had at the plate, trailing only Mookie Betts.