Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Minor League Musing - Getting to know Joe Benson

As of Saturday September 11th, I have taken over "minor league musings" at TwinsTarget.com. This is a great opportunity to garner more readership for my writing and this blog. It is also going to be fun to speak to a minor league focus two or more times a week. I'd like to thank Andrew Kneeland for the opportunity. I will still be blogging on this site, but most posts about the minor leagues will be posted over there. So, please check out TwinsTarget.com. There is a lot of great Twins content there. While you are there and check out "minor league musings". My latest post about Estarlin De Los Santos is posted. Joe Benson was my first post, enjoy.
With my first post, I will introduce you to my favorite Twins prospect, Joe Benson. He plays all outfield positions and is capable of playing a very good center field. The 22 year old was a Twins 2nd round draft pick in 2006 out of Joliet Catholic Academy in Joliet, Illinois. He is not as highly thought of in Twins prospect circles as Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere, or Angel Morales, but he should be. He is a similar, if more advanced player than Aaron Hicks and Angel Morales. Hicks most likely will walk a little more than Benson. He is the same age as Revere and has much more power and is a better fielder, if not as fast a runner.
In 2009, he batted .285/.414/.403 for Fort Myers with 14 stolen bases in 21 attempts. He ranked #4 overall in my Twins prospect list coming into 2010. At the time, I said "he is developing into a prototypical lead off or #2 hitter. He's another of many high-end outfield prospects in the Twins organization." Well in 2010, his power has taken off. The 6'2" 211 lb. Benson finally added power that his frame would suggest. Prior to 2010, Benson topped out at 5 HRs in a season. He had a .259/.343/.538 line with 27 HRs, 31 doubles and 8 triples for Fort Myers and New Britain. He also stole 19 bases in 28 tries. His .527 slugging percentage at New Britain ranked 5th in the Eastern League of players with 300 plus plate appearances. His .862 OPS ranked 11th of players with 300 plus PA. His 23 HRs ranked 4th in the league. He probably isn't a going to be a 1 or 2 hitter after-all, though he hits at the top of the order for New Britain.
I have seen him play 3 times this season. When he was named as one of seven Twins to make the Arizona Fall league, I posted a scouting report on the 7 players.
This was my scouting report on Benson:
I saw him in June and wrote this: He's 22 and LaVelle E. Neal thinks he'll arrive in 2012. For some reason, he was sent back to Fort Myers this year. I personally think he is a better player than Revere right now. He certainly looks to have more upside. He is almost as fast as Revere but also has power. He went 2-5 with a 2B and a walk on Wednesday and 1-4 with a HR in Thursday's game. He leads New Britain with 9 HRs. The bounce in power is great especially since he is considered more of a speed guy. He already has 13 HRs in 2010 between Fort Myers/New Britain. He's never had more than 5 HRs in a season. If Micheal Cuddyer were traded in the off-season, Benson may be better equipped then Revere to replace some of his offense by next season.

I also saw him in August: He went 0-5 and some of his swings were really hard. Carlos Gomez hard. He is certainly the best prospect in AA for the Twins currently, but he has some work to do. I love watching him in the field and he has legitimate power. He also might be wound to tight. He got mad a couple times during the game, tossing his helmet hard into the dugout and also on the field after just missing his pitch and flying out. The kind of reaction usually reserved for strikeouts. Benson has a ton of tools and potential that is starting to show. I hope he is able to keep his emotions in check and just enjoy the game a little more. He has enough ability to go a long way someday soon.
Benson is a 5 tool player that could be a future star for the Twins. He can hit, hit for power, steal a base, plays great defense and has a good arm. He is more than capable in center field but may eventually shift to a corner. When he is in the lineup with Ben Revere, Revere has played center. Benson has also improved his on-base skills in the last couple of seasons.
The one flaw in his game is his strikeout rate. Benson struck out 136 times in 519 plate appearances in 2010. His 115 Eastern League K's ranked 11th and his total of 136 would have placed him in 6th place for the league. That's a strikeout every 3.82 plate appearances. Many mention his strikeout rate as a reason to keep Benson in AA for another season and it may be a fair reaction. Give him more time to work on this flaw before promoting him to AAA or the majors. As a comparison, the Twins strikeout leader this year is Jason Kubel. He has 102 strikeouts in 515 plate appearances. Kubel never had more than 59 Ks in any minor league season. Benson's strikeouts are a problem. Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn never struck out that much in the minors.
Joe Benson will be added to the 40 man roster over the winter and will get a look in spring training before he gets sent back to AA. Between Arizona Fall league and his return to New Britain, Benson should be tasked with lowering his K rate. If he can do that, he will be ready to make an impact with the big league club as soon as mid-season. Guys like Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales and Ben Revere could be great players for the Twins, but Joe Benson is the most likely to do it first.

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