Will Benson was 19 years old and playing in the Midwest League when he led Sunday Notes on May 13, 2018. Two years removed from being drafted 14th overall by Cleveland out of Atlanta’s Westminster High School, he was both promising and raw. His batting average was hovering around the Mendoza line, but his OBP was a healthy .376, and his seven home runs were tied for tops in the circuit.
In many ways, he’s much the same player now. Acquired by the Cincinnati Reds from the Guardians this past February, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound outfielder had a strong 2022 campaign with Triple-A Columbus — 17 bombs and a .948 OPS — but he’s otherwise been a work-in-progress since entering pro ball. His career slash line in the minors is .221/.353/.441, and over 122 big-league plate appearances — he debuted last August — that line is a paltry .187/.256/.243. Contact has been an issue. In back-to-back seasons on the farm, Benson fanned 152 and 151 times. His K-rate in the majors is 32.2%.
But the potential is still there, as evidenced by a pair of performances over the past two weeks. On May 30, Benson had three hits, including a triple, in Cincinnati’s 9-8 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Just four days ago, he walked off the Los Angeles Dodgers with his first big-league home run. Moreover, his athleticism remains elite.
I asked Benson about the road he’s traveled since our 2018 conversation following his three-hit game in Boston.
“It’s been rocky, but with a lot of growth,” Benson told me. “There have been good times, there have been bad times, and through it all there has been so much growth and change for me as a young man. I was 19 then, and now I’m 24 with a family; I have a baby boy that was born in March. There has been growth within the game, as well.”
Like all prospects, Benson had his development path hindered by the pandemic. With the minor-league season cancelled, he had to settle for a short stint in the independent Constellation Energy League, an experience that turned out to be anything but rosy. He had just eight hits in 56 at-bats, and fanned 27 times.
“In terms of playing and continuing with that flow, the whole rhythm of things, it was definitely tough,” Benson said of the 2020 summer. “But I did get to play in Sugar Land, and that was dope. It kind of opened my eyes to ‘I’ve got work to do.’ I felt kind of sad to go into that league and not do very well. But I worked, and I continued to learn.”
A mixed-bag season followed — 17 homers and 146 strikeouts — but then came a career-best 2022. In 401 Triple-A plate appearances, the youngster matched his 2021 home run total while fanning just 91 times. Moreover, his slash line was a stand-up-and-take-notice .279/.426/.522, and he stole 16 bases in 20 attempts. Among those taking notice were the Cincinnati Reds.
“They had been following me ever since I got drafted, and I guess they liked the progress I’ve been making,” Benson said of the trade. “When I played against them in Triple-A last year, I tore them up pretty good. I think it was a combination of that, and them liking my ability on the diamond. I understand that maybe I won’t be a guy who hits .300, but I can be a guy who gets on base close to 40% of the time, steal bases, and hit the ball hard. I can impact the game.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Corey Rosier would like to play in Boston this season. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: He’ll add athleticism and a discerning eye to the Red Sox roster if and when he arrives. Acquired from San Diego last summer as part of the Eric Hosmer deal, the 23-year-old, left-handed-hitting outfielder has been described by our lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen as “a 70 runner with a good idea of the strike zone.” His numbers this season have been promising. In 155 plate appearances with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, Rosier has a .305/.364/.433 slash line, a 122 wRC+, and he’s swiped 24 bases in 27 attempts.
He credits offseason speed training at Tampa’s House of Athlete for improving what were already impressive wheels.
“The program I go through has helped make my first step even better, and to get to my top speed quicker,” explained Rosier, who ran a 6.4 60 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Yo Murphy is who put it together. His primary sport is football — he played in the NFL for a little bit — but they’ve branched out to other sports and do a really good baseball program.”
Rosier wasn’t big into football growing up. Rather, he was “a baseball/basketball guy” who was primarily a shooting guard on the hardwood. Defense was one of his strong suits. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Waldorf, Maryland native would often guard the other team’s best player.
His ability to handle high-level pitching will go a long way toward determining his future on the diamond, and he took a big step in that direction this past winter. Rosier was introduced to a hitting coach named Oswaldo “Ovy” Rodriguez Diaz, who helped him clean up his bat path and strengthen his top hand. The latter part of that equation was paramount.
“Being a right-handed thrower and a left-handed hitter, my bottom hand is naturally more dominant,” Rosier explained. “What was happening is that my swing was getting in and out of the zone — not having a strong top hand was kind of making me get snap-hooky — versus keeping the path through to centerfield. I really focused on strengthening that, and it’s definitely helped.”
The possibility that he could potentially help the Red Sox as soon as this season came up when I asked the confident youngster if he had any final thoughts before preparing that night’s game.
“You haven’t asked me when I’ll be a big-leaguer,’ responded Rosier, who next to Triple-A infielder David Hamilton ranks as the fastest player in the Red Sox system. “I think that could be by the end of this year. With the way I run the bases and play defense, if the Sox make a playoff push, I could be a guy who comes up and helps them win by doing the same things I’m doing here. It’s coming a lot sooner than people know.”
Ty Cobb has the most singles, doubles, and triples in Detroit Tigers history. Who is the franchise leader for home runs?
The answer can be found below.
Bobby Bolin, who pitched for three teams — the San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers, and Boston Red Sox — from 1961-1973, died earlier this month at age 84. The right-hander from Hickory Grove, South Carolina appeared in 495 games and went 88-75 with 51 saves and a 3.40 ERA.
Jack Baldschun, who pitched for the three teams — the Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres — from 1961-1970, died earlier this week at age 83. The Greenville, Ohio and Miami University product had a three-year-stretch with the Phillies where he logged 29 relief wins, 50 saves, and a 2.79 ERA.
The Milwaukee Brewers made a shrewd move when they acquired Owen Miller from the Cleveland Guardians last December in exchange for cash (thanks to The Athletic’s Zack Meisel for confirming that it was a cash transaction with no PTBNL involved). In 174 plate appearances with his new team, the 26-year-old infielder is slashing .313/.351/.448 with four home runs and a 120 wRC+. Moreover, he’s added versatility to the lineup by playing five defensive positions. Featured here at FanGraphs as part of my “Talks Hitting” series last December, the Mequon native is the 12th Wisconsin-born player in Brewers history.
On a related note, the current iteration of the Milwaukee Brewers was established in April 1970 when the Seattle Pilots relocated to Wisconsin’s largest city on short notice, this after the Pilots went into into bankruptcy a week before Opening Day. The moniker preceded the move at the major-league level. In 1884, the Milwaukee Brewers played in the Union Association, an American Association team went by that name in 1891, and when the American League was established in 1901, the Brewers were an inaugural member. The last of those franchises is now in Maryland, the Brewers having become the St. Louis Browns in 1902, and subsequently the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.
Gosuke Katoh hit safely in his first 10 games with NPB’s Nippon-Ham Fighters and is 19-for-51 with four home runs through his first 13. The 28-year-old Mountain View, California native played in eight games for the Toronto Blue Jays last season.
Liván Moinelo is 2-0 with three saves and a 0.87 ERA with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The 27-year-old Cuban-born southpaw has 28 strikeouts and nine hits allowed in 20-and-two-thirds innings. One year ago, he had a 1.03 ERA, 24 saves, and 87 strikeouts in 52-and-two-thirds innings.
Seunghwan Oh recorded his 500th professional save when the KBO’s Samsung Lions beat the NC Dinos 9-6 earlier this week. The 40-year-old right-hander has since added one more and now has 379 saves in the KBO, 80 in NPB, and 42 in MLB. All but three of his stateside saves came with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016-2017.
Hye Seong Kim is slashing .313/.379/.427 with 13 doubles and three home runs for the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes. The 24-year-old second baseman has 14 steals in as many attempts.
Peter O’Brien is slashing .393/.454/.793 with a circuit-best 13 home runs for the Mexican League’s Pericos de Puebla. The 32-year-old outfielder played for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015-2016 and the Miami Marlins in 2018-2019.
Fernando Rodney is 2-1 with five saves and a 7.56 ERA over 17 Mexican League relief appearances. The 46-year-old veteran of 17 MLB seasons has seen action with both Leones de Yucatan and Diablos Rojos del Mexico.
Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand were minor-league teammates in the Minnesota Twins system before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds last August in exchange for Tyler Mahle. Steer — featured in my “Talks Hitting” series earlier this month — is enjoying a stellar rookie season, while Encarnacion-Strand, a 2021 fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State University, is knocking loudly on the big-league door. According to Steer, the erstwhile Cowboy doesn’t lack for confidence.
“It was Strand’s first spring training,” recalled Steer. “Some of us were talking in the dugout before an inter-squad game, and he said that he wanted to hit .300 with 30 home runs that year. We were like, ‘What?” Like, no one does that. One of us said, “That’s your expectation?” He said, “Yeah.” Sure enough, he goes ahead and hits 30, and hits over .300.”
Encarnacion-Strand’s exact totals in 2022 — this across 330 plate appearances in High-A and 208 in Double-A — were 32 home runs and a .304 batting average. Based on what he’s doing this year, those numbers weren’t a fluke. Over 194 plate appearances with Triple-A Louisville, he’s slashing a lusty .356/.418/.718 with 16 home runs and a 176 wRC+.
“He’s pretty confident,” said Steer. “He’s also pretty good.”
DJ Peters is getting an opportunity on the mound. The 27-year-old former Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers outfielder pitched two scoreless innings for the Detroit Tigers Florida Complex League entry earlier this week.
Noah Mendlinger is slashing .306/.427/.471 with four home runs in 151 plate appearances between High-A Peoria and Double-A Springfield. The 22-year-old infielder was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the St. Louis Cardinals out of Georgia College & State University in 2021.
Aaron Schunk is slashing .341/.385/.625 with 10 home runs in 192 plate appearances for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. Drafted by the Colorado Rockies out of the University of Georgia in 2019, the 25-year-old infielder was first featured here at FanGraphs in June 2020.
Emmet Sheehan is 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 53-and-a-third innings for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. Currently No. 17 our Los Angeles Dodgers Top Prospect list, the 23-year-old right-hander was featured here at FanGraphs last August.
Al Alburquerque is 1-0 with three saves and a 1.29 ERA over 19 relief outings for the independent Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks. The 38-year-old right-hander — a veteran of 264 big-league games over seven seasons, including five with the Detroit Tigers — last pitched affiliated ball in 2018.
Which is better, baseball on TV or baseball on the radio? I asked that question in a Twitter poll a few days ago, and the results favored eyeballs over ears. TV received 56.7 of the votes, while radio garnered 43.3%.
Regardless of the medium, the quality of the people behind the microphones matters. In my opinion, it matters a lot. I do my best to tune in to a wide variety of games, even for just an inning or two — keeping abreast of what’s happening across the two leagues is part of my job — and it’s safe to say that not all play-by-play announcers and analysts are created equal. Whether I opt for TV or radio, or for home or away, the respective voices of the game strongly influence my choice.
As one commenter on the poll put it, “It depends upon the broadcasters.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Emma Tiedemann and Rylee Pay — the second all-female booth in professional baseball history — are finding chemistry as Double-A Portland’s broadcast team. Jen McCaffrey wrote about them for The Athletic (subscription required).
KCUR Kansas City’s Greg Echlin reported on how the Royals-owned Urban Youth Academy, in the opinion of some members of the city’s African-American community, has strayed from its original goals.
Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein wrote about how MLB has the power to keep the A’s in the Bay Area.
Jonathan Mayo did a mock draft at MLB.com.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Cleveland Guardians have lost 17 games by one run, the most in the majors.
Kansas City Royals right-hander Jordan Lyles is 0-10 with a 6.84 ERA and a .239 BABIP-against. His 18 home runs allowed are the most in the majors.
On today’s date in 1985, Von Hayes hit a solo home run and a grand slam as part of a nine-run first inning as the Philadelphia Phillies routed the New York Mets 26-7 at Veteran’s Stadium. The score was 16-0 after two innings.
On today’s date in 1979, Bob Stanley threw a complete-game four-hitter as the Boston Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 4-0 in 10 innings. The losing pitcher was Steve Busby, who allowed two hits in nine-and-a-third innings.
Players born on today’s date include Wheezer Dell, who went a combined 19-23 with a 2.55 ERA while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1912, and the Brooklyn Robbins from 1915-1917. The Tuscarora native was the first major-league player born in the state of Nevada.
Also born on today’s date was Pop Joy, a first baseman who played for the Union Association’s Washington Nationals in 1884. The Washington DC native had 28 hits — all singles — in 130 at-bats.