The Red Sox selected Arkansas outfielder Andrew Beninitendi No. 7 overall in Monday's MLB draft. (Photo courtesy of Razorback Communications)

How Red Sox first-round pick Andrew Benintendi became the player he is today

Ryan Hannable
June 08, 2015 - 9:24 pm

Red Sox first-round pick and No. 7 overall, sophomore outfielder Andrew Benintendi out of the University of Arkansas has the ability to one day to become a star in Boston. But, back home in Madeira, Ohio and Madeira High School, he already is a superstar. Graduating in a class with just over 125 students and living in such a small town, Benintendi has been all the buzz of late, as not only are his Arkansas Razorbacks heading to the College World Series, his name was called by the Red Sox No. 7 overall in the 2015 MLB draft Monday night. "If I ever drew up a perfect kid, it would have been Andrew Benintendi," Jack Kuzniczci, Benintendi's high school coach (now retired), said late Monday night. (Ironically, Benintendi is the second Red Sox first-round pick Kuzniczci has coached, as he coached 1996 first-round selection Josh Garrett one summer in Indiana, although he never amounted to anything.) Benintendi starred at Madeira on the diamond, as he was a four-year starter and the left-handed hitter finished his career as the all-time Ohio runs leader (35 more than the player behind him), second in hits and in the top five in RBIs. During his senior season he was drafted by the Reds in the 31st round, but he didn't sign and went on to play at Arkansas. He even was a pitcher in his early years, throwing 88 mph in a championship game as a sophomore before becoming exclusively an outfielder for his senior year. From the day he got him, Kuzniczci knew he had a special player. "He was very easy for me to coach because he was a very smart kid," he said. "His parents are just great people. He always respects his elders and coaches. He picked up things so fast. We let kids steal on their own and he took that by the horns and he loved it. A lot of coaches give signs, but I let Andrew steal on his own. He absolutely loved it. He learned the game so quick. He's an incredibly smart kid, a good-looking kid. He didn't chase the girls around either, so it was kind of nice to have a kid that wasn't girl crazy. Never a problem with grades." TWO-SPORT STAR It wasn't just the baseball field Benintendi starred on, he also was an exceptional basketball player. Benintendi holds the school record for points (1,753), free throws, three-pointers and steals. His junior year, he was one of the Division 3 Players of the Year in the state of Ohio and was named to the All-State team both his junior and senior years. All this while this wasn't even his No. 1 sport. "Kind of like a hobby for him. I really do believe he could have been a Division 1 basketball player as well, if he wanted too," Jim Reynolds, his basketball coach at Madeira said. "But, he made the right choice [picking baseball]." He was a guard, primarily a shooting guard, but would do whatever his team needed most, showcased in a state tournament game when the team's starting point guard went down with an injury in the game before and then Benintendi went out and scored 41 points. "It could happen any night," Reynolds said. "The one game he had 41, we were down 17 in the third quarter and he had 19 points in the third quarter. We had lost our starting point guard for the season in the previous tournament game so he knew he needed to step up and do more, and he did. "He had 41 in another game against a league rival who had beaten us earlier in the season. He was 7-for-14 from three-point range, I remember that. He made two or three early and scored a ton of points early. I looked at my assistants and said, 'We just have to make sure we stay out of his way.'" The 20-year-old could have probably played football too if he wanted, as Kuzniczci recalled a story that before football tryouts one year Benintendi was messing around on the field and kicking 45-50 yard field goals. BULKING UP Benintendi struggled during his first season as a Razorback, hitting just .227 with only one home run. This past season he broke out, hitting .390 with 18 home runs on the way to winning the SEC Player of the Year award. Both his high school coaches noted he was "worn down" his freshman year at Arkansas, playing baseball almost 12 straight months for the first time in his life, likely a major factor in his below average numbers. The biggest difference in the two seasons was lifting weights and putting on 15 pounds of muscle, something he learned was important back in his days at Madeira. "When he was a freshman, he was probably 5-foot-8, 135 pounds and there was a good player on a rival school that just shut him down physically," Reynolds recalled. "He was a strong kid. Kind of looks like Andrew does now. After the game I told Andrew he was going to be an incredible athlete, but if he wanted to really be a great athlete he had to lift. I saw his mom and dad and knew he wouldn't be that tall. From that moment on he dedicated himself with every opportunity to the lift and get stronger and obviously he did that last summer." After his freshman year, the Arkansas coaches told him to take the summer off. Kuzniczci tried to get him to play on a competitive summer league team with his son, but he told him he wasn't playing any baseball that summer and just lifting weights, where did he most of back at his high school weight room. "When he goes in, he lifts hard," Reynolds said. "Sometimes when he was lifting, by the end of his career in basketball I was worried about him. I told him not to lift too hard. Most kids you can't get to lift at all or lift very hard at all." Clearly, it paid off, going from just one home run to 18, but, that wasn't the first time he saw a sudden increase in power. Back in high school he hit one home run in each of his freshman and sophomore seasons and then hit 10 his junior year and 13 his senior year -- likely the weight lifting playing a major role then too. He also never got down on himself, something the Red Sox value, a player who mentally has what it takes to be successful. "The thing I always liked about him was he wanted to make the plays at the end when it mattered," Reynolds said. "At the same time, if he wasn't successful, which wasn't that often, but it did happen some, he was strong enough mentally and it didn't do anything to him for the next time." A NEW CHAPTER WITH BOSTON Once the Razorbacks season ends, Benintendi will begin his career with the Red Sox (assuming he signs), a team Kuzniczci wasn't surprised selected him. "We kind of knew he was going to be drafted in the first round and we didn't know exactly where," Kuzniczci said. "One of the Red Sox scouts called me back in the fall just asking me questions about Andrew. I figured, if they are calling his high school coach, they are just dotting their I's and crossing their T's, trying to find out what kind of person he is. The good thing is he's just a great kid." As for what the first step is for the center fielder in the Red Sox organization, he will likely be sent to short-season, Single-A Lowell to get himself adjusted to the professional game, with the potential to be promoted before the season is done. Kuzniczci believes before long he could be at Fenway Park. "I am hoping he's up in the big leagues in about two or three years," he said. "I think he'll be a very good defensive outfielder. I think he will be a good teammate. I don't think he will ever get into trouble. I really don't know what to say about the power, but there has to be something there because not many people have hit as many home runs as him this year. Not many people have hit for the average he has, and shoot, he stole 20 bases too. I would compare him to a guy like Lenny Dykstra. He was a hard-nosed player and he's kind of like him." While it's way too soon to know what type of future he will have as a Red Sox, his track record certainly gives the Red Sox something to look forward to for what is to come.