For Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi didn’t seem the least bit rattled about stepping into the shoes of Kansas City Royals legend Alex Gordon as the club’s everyday left fielder.
Benintendi even hopes to speak to Gordon in the near future and get some advice on patrolling his old stomping grounds.
Sure, Benintendi had a clear reverence for Gordon’s accomplishments (eight Gold Gloves, two Platinum Gloves, a World Series title). But he wasn’t overwhelmed Thursday in his first comments after being traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Royals. He appeared eager to dive into a new adventure.
Benintendi, who hasn’t played since fractured ribs ended his season in August, seemed a bundle of enthusiasm and energy. Had it not been for snow on the ground outside him, he might have been convinced to step outside and take some swings.
“I’m ready to go,” Benintendi said. “I can’t wait to get out to Arizona and then start things off the right way.”
The 26-year-old left-handed hitter also acknowledged an ill-fated change to his offensive approach that likely contributed to his statistical dip in 2019. And that might be the key to his return to top form with the Royals.
“There was an effort on my end to just try to get the ball in the air more,” Benintendi said of his 2019 performance. “I was trying to go up there and hit for more power. I mean, I’m 5-9, 175 pounds, so I realize I’m not going to be up there hitting 30 home runs per year.
“Now, I kind of understand the player I am, the player I want to be.”
An athletic player who earned collegiate player of the year honors and had been the top-rated prospect in professional baseball in 2017, he got caught up in the launch-angle phenomenon after two seasons playing in Boston’s historic bandbox — Fenway Park.
He belted 20 home and stole 20 bases in 2017, his first full season in the majors, to go along with 90 RBIs, a .271 batting average, .352 on-base percentage and a .424 slugging percentage.
The next season, he hit 16 homers and raised his batting average to .290 with a .366 OBP and a .465 slugging percentage. He also stole 21 bases in 2018.
Going into 2019 with power on his mind, he consciously bulked up. He slashed .266/.343/.431 with 13 home runs, but his strikeout rate went from 16% the year prior to 22.8%. He stole just 10 bases in 2019.
He pledges to return to his old swing and approach, and he has already talked about wanting to use the middle of the field more as he looks forward to playing his home games in spacious Kauffman Stadium.
“I always love playing there,” Benintendi said. “Something about it, I feel like I always see the ball well. It’s a big field. I feel like I’m a gap-to-gap kind of hitter. Obviously, those gaps there are pretty big. Let’s see if we can run a little bit.”
Royals general manager Dayton Moore touted Benintendi as a potential 40 double per year hitter now that he’ll play home games at Kauffman Stadium.
“We believe in the player,” Moore said. “He’s 26 years old. He has always performed. He has performed at every level. We’re confident that he’ll be able to get back to his accustomed level. He’s just entering his prime.”
Moore also lauded Benintendi’s potential impact on the lineup, specifically second baseman Nicky Lopez.
A finalist for the AL Gold Glove last season, Lopez still hasn’t gotten his feet completely under him offensively at the major-league level. Lengthening the lineup takes pressure off Lopez’s offensive production.
As far as where Benintendi fits into manager Mike Matheny’s lineup card, Matheny chuckled on Thursday and said, “Anywhere. That’s the beautiful thing.”
“You could see him anywhere,” Matheny said. “All of a sudden you’re just thinking about the depth that gives our offense.”
Benintendi wasn’t the only one anxious for him to get on the field. Matheny’s borderline giddiness was still evident on Thursday. He admittedly was surprised when he first learned that the Royals had a realistic chance to pull off the deal.
“I’ve been skipping around here like a fool all day,” Matheny quipped. “I’d been excited about our club already — the chance of some of these guys taking advantage of opportunities. But adding a piece like this, and I’m hearing from the guys too, I think it’s a huge statement by our organization. And I think it’s a huge statement to our fan base: Just watch this because we’ve got some really cool pieces in place.”