(ed. note: Please welcome J. Scott Sewell as the newest addition to the RR staff! He’s coming to us from our sister site at Down the Drive. Look at the pretty pictures! - BK)
Back in October, Baseball America surveyed scouts, scouting directors, and player-development personnel and determined the Cincinnati Reds had the best 2016 draft. You may remember our Wick Terrell mentioned this in November when the results were announced. As Wick alludes, the results are perhaps a bit premature, but it’s an encouraging sign for a franchise lacking in good news over the past couple of years.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a look at each of the Reds picks in the first 10 rounds of the 2016 draft to see what all the fuss is about. First up is Lucas Benenati, the 10th round pick from Kansas State University.
Before you get too excited, I should note that the last name is pronounced Ben-en-ah-ti, not ‘nati’. Please adjust your puns accordingly.
Lucas Benenati was KSU’s closer last year when he recorded six saves in eight opportunities for a KSU team that finished with a 26-31 record. He was dominant to begin the year, not allowing a run in his first nine appearances and ended the season with a 3.81 ERA. The main concern for Benenati entering the draft was about his control. He walked 14 batters in 28 1/3 innings -- a significant increase from his junior season when he was a setup man.
The Reds selected the 23 year old with the 288th pick in the draft and immediately sent him to Rookie League ball in Billings. He pitched well in Billings, not allowing a run in seven of his nine appearances. However, his other two appearances were so poor, and the overall sample size so small, that his Rookie League numbers appear dismal at first glance. He left Billings with a 6.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, and opponents hit .308 off of him. In those other seven appearances he only allowed three hits and three walks over seven innings pitched, perhaps foreshadowing what was to come in Dayton.
His next stop was Dayton where things seem to have clicked for him. After allowing two runs in his first game, he allowed just one more over his next 11 appearances. Benenati completely reversed his control issues and ended the season with 25 strikeouts and just one walk in 26 innings. An absolutely remarkable stat for anyone, nevermind a prospect with control issues.
The lone scouting report I could find on Benenati from Baseball America says ‘He sits at 91-94 MPH with a fringy slider’. He definitely has a solid breaking ball, but whether it’s a slider or curveball is up for debate. Regardless, here’s a look at how effective they can be:
He also has a fastball with some movement as you can see here:
Like many young pitchers, he struggles most when he leaves the ball up in the zone. His first outing - against Beloit - was filled with the type of mistakes you’d expect to see from a nervous rookie. Most of Beloit’s outs in that game were very hard hit balls to the outfield that just happened to be hit directly at a Dayton player.
He gained confidence as the season progressed and has shown he’s not afraid to throw his breaking pitches early in the count and consistently throughout at bats. In fact, I was a bit surprised at how often Tyler Stephenson and Chris Okey were sent scrambling after a breaking ball that didn’t quite make it all sixty feet and six inches.
At 23 years old, he was a little over a year older than the average age of his Midwest League counterparts according to Baseball-Reference, so I expect to see him begin 2017 in Pensacola. However, given his age and the Reds’ need for quality relievers I wouldn’t be surprised to see him advance quickly enough to see time in Cincinnati by the end of the season.
If he continues to show anything approaching the level of control he displayed at Dayton, he projects as a quality middle reliever or set-up man. He lacks the type of electric ‘stuff’ that teams look for in closers, but with proper development he could become a quality piece in the Reds bullpen.