Red Sox

Red Sox came close to losing Andrew Benintendi to Astros in '15 Draft

Red Sox came close to losing Andrew Benintendi to Astros in '15 Draft

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. 

MORE: Drellich: Red Sox bullpen was good, then they changed for the better

“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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Is Red Sox' slump temporary, or did they come back to earth?

Is Red Sox' slump temporary, or did they come back to earth?

NEW YORK -- All year, this looked like the revival of the 2016 offense. Some extended drop-offs are starting to make that seem like a mirage.

The Red Sox’ 11 home runs in the month of September are the fewest of all 30 teams. As of midnight going into Thursday, their on-base percentage in September, .317, was middle of the pack at 14th best. Their slugging percentage, meanwhile, was worse than all but four teams, at .362.

“There’s been a few at-bats early in the game, in these two games, that we had a chance to score right away,” Alex Cora said after a 10-1 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday. “We had man at third with less than two outs, and we haven’t been able to cash in. That’s something that, we’ll talk about it, and it’s always good to get the lead. I think we’re pretty good ball club doing that. There’s certain at-bats, just put the ball in play and get the runner in and keep moving forward. We’ll talk about it.”

The Red Sox offense overall still has been a juggernaut. The Sox entered Wednesday first in runs per game (5.30), first in slugging percentage (.449) and tied for the second-most steals (117). They wouldn’t have 103 wins without a very capable lineup.

But as the playoffs arrive, the Sox need to look at their recent downturn and identify whether they feel they’ve just hit a natural rut, or whether something both larger and correctable is at play. Were some players simply playing over their heads collectively, or have they just temporarily lost their approach?

Sandy Leon is hitting .098 in the second half. Mitch Moreland is hitting .179, Christian Vazquez .200 and Rafael Devers .222. Blake Swihart, the man who must rarely play, is at .250, with Brock Holt at .224.

Vazquez, Moreland and Leon together are a combined 39-for-264 in the second half: a .149 average. Andrew Benintendi (.263) has just two home runs and a .693 OPS. 

J.D. Martinez (.339) is still his incredible, awesome self, while Mookie Betts (.296) has done very well but seen a drop in power too, with just six home runs since the break. That’s the same amount as Jackie Bradley Jr., who has quietly put together a very solid second half, with an .818 OPS.

The Red Sox don’t seem to be swinging at strikes as often as they were before. Per FanGraphs, the Sox had a 69.2 percent swing percentage at pitches in the zone, sixth best in the majors in the first half. They entered Wednesday 19th best in the second half, at 66.2 percent.

The Sox could be due to break out. They could also be a lineup exposed. But it’s a topic they’ll have to invest time in before the playoffs begin, and consider whether players like Moreland and Leon make their lineup as strong as can be over, say, Swihart and Steve Pearce.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Highlights from Boston Red Sox' 10-1 loss to New York Yankees

usatsi_11282487.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

Highlights from Boston Red Sox' 10-1 loss to New York Yankees

FINAL SCORE: 10-1, Yankees

IN BRIEF:  David Price's issues at Yankee Stadium continued as the Red Sox failed to clinch the AL East again on Wednesday night. Box score.

RED SOX RECORD: 103-49.

WHERE THEY STAND: The Red Sox lead the Yankees by 9 1/2 games in the A.L. East standings with 10 games remaining in the season.

MAGIC NUMBER

Still stands at 2

HIGHLIGHTS

WHAT'S NEXT:

THURSDAY: Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez, 12-4, 3.53) at Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka, 12-5. 3.47), 7:05 p.m.

FRIDAY: Red Sox (Chris Sale, 12-4, 1.92) at Indians (Trevor Bauer, 12-6. 2.22), 7:10 p.m.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE