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Andrew Benintendi
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Betting on Benintendi

by Matthew Pouliot

Why are you still so high on Andrew Benintendi? Besides complaints about my rankings of Cody Bellinger, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Jorge Polanco, it was probably the most common response I received after publishing my June rankings. I understand the sentiment; he’s been a disappointment early on and the Red Sox had briefly dropped him in the order in the days leading up to the column. Still, I’ve remained optimistic.

Obviously, a big part of the reason that I had Benintendi as a top-15 player initially was that he was in a terrific situation for hitters. Apart from playing in Coors, there’s nothing better for a hitter than hitting high in the Red Sox order and spending half of the season in Fenway. That’s worth a great deal by itself.

The other part was that I thought Benintendi’s power would take a real step forward in his third full season. It hasn’t so much, though seven homers in 60 games isn’t a disaster and there are signs that something could yet materialize here. Benintendi is hitting the ball more in the air that previously, and his barrel percentage is well up. He entered Tuesday’s action with 17 barrels. Here’s everyone else with exactly 17 barrels:

Nicholas Castellanos: 7 HR
Eduardo Escobar: 17 HR
Rhys Hoskins: 14 HR
Max Muncy: 13 HR
Jorge Polanco: 10 HR
Carlos Santana: 13 HR
Trevor Story: 15 HR

On the whole, barrels turn into homers 57% of the time (non-barrels are also occasionally homers), which suggests that Benintendi should have a few more homers. Still, while Benintendi’s batted ball profile is a little better than his numbers, he has hurt his cause with many more strikeouts than usual, which is a real source of concern. However, this looks like Benintendi’s floor to me. Even as a disappointment thus far, he’s on pace for 17 homers and 17 steals. The Red Sox lineup should get better on the whole, and Benintendi still rates as a very good bet for runs and RBI the rest of the way. It doesn’t look like Benintendi is going to graduate from quality regular to legitimate All-Star in real baseball this year, but I’m still buying in when it comes to fantasy. He can contribute in all five categories, and he has no durability issues. He makes for a nice acquisition.

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American League notes

- The Yankees lineup might actually be at something close to full strength in around a week. Miguel Andujar (shoulder) won’t be coming back, but Didi Gregorius (elbow) has returned, Giancarlo Stanton (calf, shoulder) is playing in the minors and Aaron Judge (oblique) is slated to begin a rehab assignment this weekend. Kendrys Morales figures to get the heave ho once Stanton is back. It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do if all their outfielders are healthy at once. Clint Frazier has been terrific with the bat, but he’s been so bad defensively that he’s given back much of his value. One imagines he’ll stick around initially and split time with Brett Gardner, but he could still wind up back in Triple-A at some point. The surprising Giovanny Urshela will remain on the roster, but he could often be crowded out as DJ LeMahieu begins to see more time at third base.

- The much awaited Yordan Alvarez callup finally came over the weekend, and he’s already rewarded those who picked him up by homering in his first two appearances. The Astros lineup is very banged up at the moment, but Alvarez will get the chance to stick for the long haul, supplanting the Tyler White-led DH committee. There’s the chance he won’t cut it, which is why it was important to get him up now and give the Astros the opportunity to figure out whether they’ll need a bat in advance of the trade deadline. He should prove plenty good enough, though.

- The Astros also have Kyle Tucker, who has shaken off a slow start to hit .327/.408/.763 with 18 homers in his last 39 games for Triple-A Round Rock. I was looking for Tucker to eventually supplant Josh Reddick in the Astros outfield this year, but Reddick has managed to hit .312 thus far, even if it’s not the most productive .312 (he has a .351 OBP, a .459 slugging percentage and 23 RBI in 240 plate appearances). It’s too bad that Michael Brantley hasn’t played first base since his days in the minors because it’s Yuli Gurriel who seems like the Astros’ weakest link right now.

- Rowdy Tellez is struggling some, but it doesn’t make much sense that he’s been on the bench for six of the last nine games for a Blue Jays team that is 20 games under .500 and has plenty of room in the lineup for Brandon Drury. Tellez isn’t starting against lefties, even though he’s hit .283/.306/.543 in 46 at-bats versus southpaws this season. That’s something of a fluke, but it’s also something of a fluke that he’s hitting just .201/.267/.373 against righties; he has a .241 BABIP versus righties and a .345 BABIP against lefties. I don’t know if Tellez is a long-term starter, but I do think it’s important that the Blue Jays try to figure it out.

- Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with what the Jays are doing. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is playing regularly, Cavan Biggio is getting a look and Teoscar Hernandez is back. Hernandez is another guy who is pretty iffy, but he does offer an interesting mix of power and athleticism. I liked him as a sleeper this year because of the homer and steal potential, and while that hasn’t materialized yet, I imagine he’ll go on a homer binge eventually if he continues to play. Whether he should play is more debatable; while he’s fast, he’s not a good outfielder, and his strikeout troubles aren’t going away. I could see him turning into a .260/.320/.500 guy – and mixing in 15 steals or so – but I’m not especially confident that it will happen.

 

National League notes

- Dallas Keuchel is a Brave, and the suspicion was that Kevin Gausman was bullpen bound even before he struggled for 2 1/3 innings Monday and landed on the IL with plantar fasciitis. That Gausman’s numbers got a whole lot worse after I began recommending him last month hurts badly. He didn’t get off to a great start – he had a 4.80 ERA at the end of April – but he was getting strikeouts and his exit velocity numbers were outstanding. Even now, those numbers are still very good. That Gausman has a 4.11 FIP and a 6.21 ERA suggests that the batted balls he’s giving up are rockets, but his average exit velocity is 21st best of the 167 pitchers with 100 batted ball events. On flyballs and liners, he’s 15th best, and his hard-hit rate is 26th best. It all suggests he should be outperforming his peripherals, though that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It hardly matters now, as Gausman probably won’t be a factor again until after the All-Star break. It’s possible he could surprise in the second half, though.

- The Braves brought back A.J. Minter on Tuesday after he allowed three runs and posted a 15/2 K/BB ratio in 10 2/3 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett. All of the runs came in one outing. With Sean Newcomb getting stretched back out, Minter seems likely to emerge as the primary alternative to Luke Jackson in the closer’s role.

- Top pitching prospect Mitch Keller will rejoin the Pirates on Wednesday and should have a couple of chances to make a case for a lengthier stay. His MLB debut against the Reds last month didn’t go according to plan (6 ER in 4 IP), but there’s still enough to like here to make him worth a speculative pickup in mixed leagues, even if he’s not a great play against the Braves in his first outing up. The talent is there for him to be a difference maker in the second half.

- No matter how poorly he was performing, it was nearly impossible to get Ian Desmond out of the Rockies lineup during his first two seasons in Colorado. Of course, now that he’s actually hitting, he’s finding himself on the bench frequently; with Charlie Blackmon back in the lineup, Desmond didn’t start on Sunday or Monday. Desmond got off to a horrible start with his new approach at the plate this year, but he’s batting .298/.397/.606 in 121 plate appearances since April 27. He looks the part, too. His defense in center isn’t very good, but then, he was never really meant to play the position in the first place. He’s fine in left field, and it’s baffling that the Rockies won’t use him there, especially since they’re using David Dahl in center and Raimel Tapia in left whenever Desmond doesn’t start. I don’t know that Desmond will keep this up forever, but it’s crazy that the Rockies aren’t treating him like a true regular while he’s swinging the bat like this.

- Then again, these are the same Rockies that called up their top prospect at the tender age of 22 to essentially use him as a bench player. Brendan Rodgers has been out of the starting lineup for three straight games. It’s entirely possible that he’s not ready for the majors just yet, but how is anyone supposed to figure that out when he’s not playing? It’s not like Ryan McMahon suddenly got hot and forced the Rockies’ hands; he’s had the same pedestrian line all year. I don’t want to completely write McMahon off as a regular, but I’ve never seen a ton of upside there and he’s not a natural second baseman anyway. Rodgers still has a chance to take off and turn into a valuable fantasy infielder this year, but it certainly doesn’t seem likely to happen in the short term.

- I’m hoping the Phillies give Enyel De Los Santos a real shot in the rotation after demoting Jerad Eickhoff to the bullpen on Tuesday. De Los Santos, who has made four relief appearances in the majors this season, is 12-7 with a 2.80 ERA in 28 starts in Triple-A the last two years. He doesn’t have top-of-the-rotation stuff, but his 91-95 miles per hour fastball, curve and plus changeup could make him a nice fourth starter for the long haul. He’d be more of an NL-only guy than a mixed-league option.

- With Scooter Gennett (groin) nearly ready to begin a rehab assignment, the Reds’ Jesse Winker could really use a hot streak right about now. Winker hasn’t been all that bad in hitting .237/.315/.438, but he doesn’t stand out with his defense or baserunning. His real problem is that Derek Dietrich is going to need to play somewhere after Gennett returns and left field makes the most sense. Of course, Yasiel Puig has been a whole lot worse than Winker offensively, but he’s still produced similar value overall and he’d be the more difficult of the two to bench.

- Daniel Ponce de Leon is probably going to start for the Cardinals on Friday and could get a longer look. He’s worth a try in deeper mixed leagues, and he’s a streaming option in shallower leagues.

Matthew Pouliot
Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.