Joe Bennie streaking for Stockton

STOCKTON - The reigning California League Player of the Week, Joe Bennie, is wasting no time hitting his stride in 2016.

Joe Bennie knows hot streaks. The Oakland A’s prospect finished the 2015 as the hottest hitter in the Midwest League over the final five weeks of the season. After a slow start with the High-A Stockton Ports in 2016, Bennie is at it again. A two-hit night on Monday gave Bennie a 10-game hitting streak. He has collected four multi-hit games in a row and has raised his average from .253 on May 27 to .294 as of June 6.

Bennie says he has a similar feeling at the plate right now as he did with Beloit during the tail-end of the Midwest League season.

“This season it just took a little bit shorter time to get to that point,” Bennie said. “It’s been a matter of being ready to hit and having a good approach and taking advantage of my pitches. I’m getting there sooner in counts, so it’s starting to click.”

Bennie, a 2013 28th-round pick out of East Stroudsburg, has improved at the plate in each of his seasons as a pro. This year, Bennie is currently on pace to establish career highs in hits, doubles, RBI, BA and OBP. The homerun power hasn’t clicked in yet for Bennie, but all three of his homers and nearly half of his doubles have come over the past 30 days, an indication that he is starting to find his power stroke at the plate. On Monday, he was named the Cal League’s Player of the Week for his work during the week of May 31.

Thanks in part to an article he read about another A’s prospect – 2015 Texas League All-Star Colin Walsh – Bennie came into this season with a slightly different approach at the plate. 

“In an article Colin Walsh did last year, he said he’s alright taking close pitches because he’s ready to do damage,” Bennie said. “I took that to heart this off-season. I said, ‘alright, I’m going to incorporate that into my game.’”

Bennie also says that working with Stockton hitting coach Tommy Everidge has been beneficial to him because he feels that Everidge has a strong understanding of who he is as a hitter. Everidge was Bennie’s hitting coach in Vermont in 2014 and worked with Bennie at extended spring training that year, as well.

“Him locking me into a certain approach that really suits me has helped,” Bennie said. “He has me taking closer pitches and really do damage on my pitches.”

The Midwest League has always been known as a pitcher’s league, while the Cal League has earned a reputation for big offensive numbers. Despite the prolific offense in the Cal League, Bennie says the quality of the pitching in the Cal League shouldn’t be underestimated.

“I noticed the bullpens are really strong here, so you kind of want to get on the starters a little bit,” Bennie said. “In the Midwest League, I felt like the starters were a little stronger and the bullpens were a little weaker. But it’s the same game. I don’t really focus on anything too much. I just see the ball, hit the ball, really." 

Bennie has found success early in games against the starters. He hit fourth on Monday and didn’t bat in the first inning, but coming into that game, he had hit safely in six straight first innings.

In an organization that values defensive versatility, Bennie fits right in. After primarily playing second base in 2013 and 2014, Bennie played only three games at the four spot in 2015, splitting most of his playing time between left field and third base instead. Early this year, Bennie moved back to second, although with the recent addition of Richie Martin to the Ports’ roster, he could see more time at third and left as the season goes on. Bennie has enjoyed his return to second.

“I was excited to jump back into it. It’s been a little easier than having to jump into left field and third base last year,” Bennie said. “During spring training, I was at third base everyday and towards the end of spring training, Grady [Fuson, A’s Special Assistant to the General Manager] came up to me and said he wanted to move me back to second. I love it at second. I’m comfortable there. I hope I can stay there.”

Early in the season, Bennie says he got some help with his footwork from A’s second baseman Eric Sogard, who rehabbed with Stockton for a few games before re-injuring his knee. Bennie says he is equally comfortable turning double-plays with all three shortstops on the Ports’ roster (Martin, Mikey White and Melvin Mercedes).

“I have great shortstops here. They make it pretty easy for me,” Bennie said.

Bennie is three years removed from his MLB Draft day, but he is keeping a close eye on the 2016 draft. His younger brother, Rob Bennie, had a big junior season at East Stroudsburg and he is drawing interest from teams going into the draft. Bennie says that his brother was recently contacted by the A’s area scout who signed him, Ron Vaughn.

“Hopefully he is picked by the A’s and we have two Bennies here,” Joe said.

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