He stands at 6’5 but that number doesn’t do his size justice. Will Benson is truly a massive human being. He’s also the 2016 first round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians last year. While a lot of eyebrows were raised at his selection, Benson doesn’t care one bit about that. He knew early on that the Indians and him would be a good match.
“The day that the Indians came and held a separate workout for myself and Jim Rickon (Indians hitting coordinator) gave me this small little adjustment and it made me a lot better," Benson shared. "I was like ‘Man if they can take hold of me for three more years what can they make me into here?’”
The way the Indians were able to take notice of Benson’s game and be able to see what kind of tweaks he needed to make and the way they relayed the information to him left quite an impression on him. Rumors obviously swirled leading up to the draft as to which direction the Indians would choose to go. Names were thrown out but Benson’s name was never really in the conversation among national pundits to be selected at #14 of the first round. In the end, though, the Indians decided that the Westminster High School outfielder was their guy.
“It was a blessing. I got picked up by a really good team,” Benson smiled.
The Indians already had quite the collection of outfield prospects in their system. They still had Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer together in the system so it seemed a little odd that they’d reach so high for another outfield prospect. However Frazier ended up leaving a month later in the Andrew Miller trade. With the red-haired prospect out the door, all of a sudden Benson became more valuable.
The Indians started out the teenage prospect in the Arizona Rookie League after the draft. It was a learning process for Benson as he got his first taste of minor league pitching. The difference between the minors and high school ball was night and day for the young man.
“It was a full experience," he recalled. "I had to slow things down because I was very excited to be out here and I wanted to do really well.”
The 2016 first rounder wanted to immediately live up to the expectations surrounding him. He wanted to show everyone how talented he was and tried to hit the ground running when he first started. He quickly learned that he had to learn how to walk before he could run.
“Once I got into the flow things the coaches were really good at helping me find a routine for day-to-day and just kind of taking it game-by-game,” Benson noted.
The results didn’t just happen overnight. Benson had a lot to learn in the AZL rookie league but he proved himself to be more than a willing student. One of his biggest weaknesses was his long swing. Benson has quite the athletic frame but one knock on him coming into the draft was his inability to make consistent contact with the ball and that he can be strikeout-prone.
That showed in his stint in the Arizona rookie league as he hit .209/.321/.424 in 44 games in the league. His strikeout rate was a whopping 32.6%. Having such a high k-rate was certainly not an encouraging thing for anyone to see; however, while his swing needed work, Benson also showed his massive power from the left side of the plate. His ISO came in at a sizzling .215 as he whacked six home runs, 19 extra-base hits and racked up 27 RBI in his short time down in Arizona.
He showed he was still a project and needed a ton of seasoning but while some of his weaknesses were exposed early, his strengths also came to light. His ability to drive the ball with some power shined brightly in Arizona. After enjoying his time in the Arizona rookie league, Benson knew he had a lot to work on.
“The main thing was developing a routine," he noted. "In the AZL they talked a lot about having a routine, establishing it early in my off-season and that led to consistently getting better and things I need to get better at."
Time will tell how Benson takes those adjustments and applies them into his second season in the minors. He’s had such a limited exposure so far with the Indians that it’s too early to even see if the adjustments he’s made will translate efficiently. That’s something Benson is looking forward to as he begins his second year.
“I’m very excited to put it all into action," he said. "That’s the whole point of the off-season – you grind it out. You just get better everyday and to see all the hard work that you put into the summer time start to pay off during the season it’s one of the best feelings ever."
The sky is the limit for Benson. He’s got the package to be a tremendous player and if he can put it all together, he will be quite a find for the Indians. There’s still a ways to go for him but he’s already taken his first steps and hopefully the best is still yet to come for him.