Will Benson was selected by the Cleveland Indians with the 14th overall selection in the 2016 June draft. The Tribe was able to get the athletic 6’5″, 215-pound outfielder to forgo a scholarship to Duke University by offering $2.5 million. Benson bats left-handed and has spent all his professional time in right field after splitting time between the outfield and first base in high school. Still only 19 years old, he spent all of 2017 with the Short-Season Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Will Benson was pretty raw when he came into the Tribe organization after being drafted at just 17 in 2016. He struggled at times but still showed off a very good eye at the plate and a nice combination of speed and power. He’s one of, if not the, best athlete in the Tribe’s system, which has drawn him some comparisons to a young Jason Heyward (both being from Atlanta and drafted 14th overall doesn’t hurt either).
Benson wasn’t all projection though as he put up some eye-popping numbers in 2017. He only hit .238 but thanks to a 13-percent walk rate had a .347 on-base percentage. He hit ten home runs which tied for the New York-Penn League lead, which was impressive considering the player he tied with was two years older. In fact, he was the only player under the age of 20 to hit double-digit home runs in either Short-Season league. Both his OPS (.823) and wRC+ (146) were top ten in the league and his .238 isolated power (ISO) was fourth (minimum 100 plate appearances).
Benson even added seven stolen bases on the year while only being caught once. In his two year career (100 games) he now has 17 steals (caught just three times) and 16 home runs, showing he’s two-way threat at the moment with power and speed. Defensively he’s been solid in right field as well, which is good as there were some concerns he may have to play first base at the next level. He probably won’t even reach the Heyward comparisons as far as defense goes, he’ll definitely be a corner guy but has a plus arm and enough speed to stick in right field.
The big issue for Benson to this point has been his inability to put the ball in play at times. He has struck out in one-third of his plate appearances as a professional. While strikeouts are hardly the issue they once were, rates over 30-percent are big red flags and something he needs to work on as he advances.
Where does he go from here?
Will Benson wasn’t a guy I had targeted with the 14th overall pick back in 2016, but so far he’s proven to be more than worthy of the selection. He won’t turn 20 until mid-June and is already showing off an impressive all-around array of skills. His one big red flag definitely can’t be ignored but is something that can be fixed and (potentially) overlooked.
Benson is different from the previous two outfielders in our top ten thanks in large part to his size and projection. He has more of a bust potential than either Greg Allen or probably even Conner Capel; however, the upside is even higher than both. If he can fill out and cut down on those strikeouts he has a shot at being a potential 30-30 guy in a corner outfield spot.
Benson should get his first taste of full-season ball in 2018 at Class-A Lake County. The Cleveland Indians haven’t pushed him too hard yet and likely will continue to be somewhat conservative but perhaps a big first half changes that…