Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Joe Benson: The Twins enigma

When Joe Benson was drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft out of Joliet, Illinois everybody knew how talented he was. As a good football and baseball player he had scholarship offers from many different schools. However, his true love was baseball and let teams know that he wanted to play baseball. Benson is a toolsie type outfielder that the Twins seem to love in their prospects. He had the body type that the Twins love with a projectable body with a cannon for an arm along with the ability to run like a deer. From what I hear he is the second fastest guy in the organization behind Ben Revere. Coming out of high school he had quite a bit of projectable tools that would take time to develop. Take that along with such a competitive streak that has gotten him into trouble and you got quite a player. As he has gotten older and matured he has learned from his mistakes and has started to turn his tools into skills and that is what every prospects big goal is. Joe Benson is the reigning Twins minor league hitter of the year and was put on the 40 man roster after 2010. He has now established himself as a guy that has the ability to be crazy good and the only thing that can keep him from achieving his potential really is himself.
After quickly signing with the Twins after the 2006 draft it was not long for Benson to show his promise. He split the 2006 season between the GCL and Beloit where he put up very solid numbers. He started at the GCL and put up these numbers

2006GCL: 52 games 196ab .260avg 5hr 28rbi 9sb 11doubles 5triples 21bb 41k .335/.444/.779

2006 Beloit: 8games 5-19 2runs scored 1rbi 1sb 6k

In those 52 games Benson showed that he had some power with 21 xtra base hits to show for his efforts. The 21 walks were also impressive as he showed an ability to take a walk. The stat that would plague him as he went forward is he struck out too much and did not hit for a good average. He then finished the year with eight games in Beloit which did not mean anything just allowed him to get a taste of what the Midwest League would be like the next year.

In 2007 Benson spent the entire year in Beloit and did decently even though he would argue that he did not do as well as he would have wanted to. So here is what he did in Beloit in 2007 for the Snappers.

2007 Beloit: 122games .255avg 5hr 38rbi 18sb 18doub 8triples 73runs 49bb 124k .347/.368/.715

We learned a few things about Benson from his 2007 season at the young age of 19 is he is a xtra base machine as he had 31 extra base hits. That he has speen as his 18 stolen bases would attest to. However, the thing that would continue to plague him was the strikeouts as 124 strikeouts is way way too many. He knew that with his age and all the strikeouts he would be repeating Beloit again in 2008 and he did. Hereis how he responded in 2008 with the Snappers.

2008 Beloit: 69 games .248avg 4hr 27rbi 17sb 16doub 3triples 39runs 24bb 73k .326/.382/.708

2008 was a disappointing year for Benson as he got off to a really good start, but then was limited to just 69 games due to injury. The good part of his game continued to be the extra base hits as he had 23 extra base hits in those 69 games. However, the strikeouts were no better maybe even a little bit worth with over a strikeout a game during 2008. His stat line showed that there was promise there, but also he has so much talent that his first three years with the Twins had to be considered a disappointment as he is capable of so much more. In 2009 he moved up to Fort Myers and this is how he did with the Miracle

2009 FM: 80 games .285avg 5hr 29rbi’s 14sb 10doub 3triples 46runs 46bb 74k .414/.403/.817

2009 was a season that had its ups and downs for Benson and could have derailed his career. On the field it was his best season as a professional as he set a career high in batting average and cut his strikeouts down. He continued to rake extra base hits as he had 18 in only 80 games and a career high .817 OPS. However, the story that has to be told about his 2009 was late in the first half after striking out he punched a fence in frustration. The only problem with that was the part that he punched had the post which broke his hand. He missed a good portion of the rest of the year coming back from that injury. The Twins severely reprimanded him for not using more common sense and there were some that thought he would be released over this. There is a fine line between intensity and stupidity and he crossed that line. The thing about Joe Benson though that gained him a lot of respect is he did not make any excuses for his behavior and apologized to the Twins and worked his butt off to get back as soon as possible. It was a mistake that if he could do it over again would not do, but that is the thing about mistakes all you can do is learn from them and not make the same mistakes again. Joe Benson is a very intense baseball player and I don’t know for sure that something like this will never happen again, but the Twins are very hopeful that it won’t. After the frustrating 2009 season Joe Benson started the 2010 season in New Britain and would be demoted back in Fort Myers in May before returning to New Britain in July. These are the kind of numbers he put up at each of his stops.

2010 NB: 102games .251avg 23hr 49rbi 14sb 65runs 20doub 7trip 39bb 115k .336/.527/.862

2010 FM: 21games .294avg 4hr 13rbi 5sb 16runs 11doub 1trip 8bb 21k .375/.588/.963

2010 was the coming out party for Joe Benson as he put up some really good numbers hitting out of the leadoff spot. Benson hit 27 homeruns with 62rbi’s and 19sb along with 31doubles and 8triples. Those numbers are all career highs and gained him the 2010 Twins minor league hitter of the year. It was the breakthrough year that most Twins fans have been waiting out of Benson since he was drafted in the 2nd round in 2006. The key in my opinion was how he responded to being demoted to Fort Myers in May as he had been tearing it up in May after a terrible April. Instead of being angry and pouting he took it as a challenge and tore up FSL to earn a promotion back up to New Britain. Benson really showed maturity that he had failed to show the year previous with the post incident. Benson then started 2011 back with New Britain and was off to a good start before knee surgery put him on the shelf for 4-6 weeks. He is now back in New Britian and this is how he has done overall.

2011 NB: 62games .269avg 5hr 28rbi 8sb 19doub 2trip 37runs 25bb 64k .369/.443/.812

2011 has been another good year for Benson as he has continued you to just be a doubles machine and if not for the knee injury his numbers would be much much better. I wanted to get the guy that knows Benson best in blogging community and that is Seth Stohs who was nice enough to answer some questions on Benson.

First, I asked Seth what he considered Joe Benson’ strengths and weaknesses and his response was, “ Benson has incredible speed and a strong competitive fire. He is very strong and has tremendous power. He is also an elite defensive outfielder with a very strong arm. For his weaknesses, Benson's biggest hurdle at times is his ability to make contact. In the past, his competitiveness has got him in trouble, and that's something he works on.” I agree with Seth wholeheartedly as his athleticism is off the charts as I don’t think there is a better pure athlete in the whole organization. The contact is a big thing because he does not have enough power in order to strike out 100 times a year so he needs to clean that up.

Next, I asked Seth about what he considers Joe Benson’s best position and his response was, “He has the arm strength to play in Right Field. However, he is also almost as fast as Ben Revere and gets great jumps on fly balls. He can play all three positions well and his arm will play anywhere.” I really feel that Joe Benson’s future is in centerfield as you can’t teach his speed and feel that his skills fit best in center field. Not saying that he couldn’t be a success in a corner outfield position I just think his best position is center field.

I then asked Seth about what to make of Joe Benson’s up and down career thus far in his career, “Benson is a tremendous athlete. He played multiple sports in high school and was fairly raw in baseball. That is part of what creates the streakiness that we have seen. That's normal with athletic players like Torii Hunter and Aaron Hicks.” I agree with Seth to a point with Benson as he is very raw, but you would like to see a little bit more consistency out of him. He has all the tools now it is time to do it more consistently.

Seth was then asked if he felt if Joe Benson had turned the corner and he responded, “I don't know how to show 'turning a corner' but he has made a lot of improvements in each and every aspect of his game and we are starting to see those great tools become skills.” I really hope that Benson has turned the corner, but it is too soon to say whether he has or not. He still has some things to work on so until he fixes those things I wouldn’t say he has turned the corner.

I then asked Seth what kind of ceiling that Joe Benson has and when we could expect to see him in a Twins uniform and his response, “Benson has a high ceiling if he can make more contact and can stay healthy. We saw the power potential in 2010. He may never hit for a real high average, and he could strike out quite a bit, but he can be a 30/30 guy in time if all goes right. I think we could see him in a Twins uniform by the end of the 2012 season.” The comparison that comes to my head if Benson can develop is that of Torii Hunter who has the ablity to be the center fielderfor the Twins for many years and hit homeruns and doubles and just be a good player.

Next, I asked Seth what he feels that Benson needs to work on as he moves forward and his response was, “He needs to continue to make more contact” I would argue that is the thing that will determine whether he is a major leaguer or not as striking out as much as he has just is not going to work. If he can cut down his strikeout total he has the ability to be very good.

The Final question that I asked Seth was whether his temper issues were an isolated issue or something to be concerned with going forward, “It's a tough question because you want players to be strongly competitive and "get after it" but that does at times need to be controlled.” I totally agree with Seth in that there is a fine line between being competitive and being distracting. You don’t want him to lose his aggressiveness, but at the same time you can’t have things that happened in 2009 happen again. I believe he has learned from it and it won’t happen again so I think he will be fine.

Joe Benson is a prospect that has the ability to be an All Star or a bust. He has so much talent it is crazy and if he can make more contact he has the ability to be awesome. However, striking out 100 times a year just won’t work so that is why I consider him such an enigma because you really would have to grade him as an incomplete. He could go so many different directions it is crazy, but I really believe he will be one way or another. He either will be really good or not be anything and if I had to say right now I believe that he will be really really good. The big thing for Benson is if he can make more contact and cut his strikeouts down to say 70-80 a year than he would be awesome. He is a doubles machine who I believe can hit 40-50 doubles at the major league level. So the question becomes which Joe Benson develops because if the Joe Benson develops that is the doubles machine who can be very scary for opposing pitchers to have to face. Joe Benson is an enigma that really could be the future in center field for the Twins and be an all star caliber player, but he could go the other way so it will be interesting to see which way he goes.