Reds Grab High-Upside Outfielder Will Benson from Guardians

The Cleveland Guardians moved on from one of the team’s top hitting prospects in Nolan Jones this past winter. Now, another player from the Guardians’ 2016 MLB Draft is also gone. Cleveland shipped out OF Will Benson to the Reds in a one-for-one deal, with outfield prospect Justin Boyd going the other way. The deal marks the end of a turbulent stretch in the Guardians organization for Benson, and the start of a new opportunity with a rebuilding team.

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A Look at Benson

Drafted out of high school in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, the road to the Majors was a long one for new Reds outfielder Will Benson. The former Georgia high school product was thought of as one the best prep hitters available that year, thanks to his raw tools. Benson flashed a plus power tool, above-average speed, and owned a good arm.

Benson proved to be a good power hitter in the Minors — the 24-year-old hit 22 home runs in each of his first two seasons in full-season ball, and cracked 34 more between 2021-22. The power-hitting outfielder can feast on mistakes made in the zone, and Benson is able drive balls almost effortlessly thanks to an impressive amount of bat speed and strength. Not to mention, Benson regularly walked throughout his MiLB career. The ex-Guardian owned a career BB% of 15.4% in the Minors, and Benson did boast an above-average take rate during his brief time in the Majors.

While Benson showed a lot of potential at times in the Minors, it wasn’t clear that Benson could reach the Majors for a good period of time. Sure, the Georgia high school proved to be a tantalizing prospect thanks to a solid power tool. But, Benson struggled badly with making contact down in the Minors. A career .222 hitter, Benson found himself falling behind in counts far too often. Benson posted a career K% rate of 29.8% in the Minors, and a 31.1% K% across 61 plate appearances with Cleveland.

In a crowded outfield in Cleveland that includes Steven Kwan, Myles Straw, Oscar Gonzalez, as well as youngsters Will Brennan and George Valera, it was going to be hard for Benson to get regular playing time in Cleveland moving forward. Now, Benson will see if he can make the most of an opportunity with the Reds. In return, the Guardians pick up former Oregon State outfielder Justin Boyd — who comes from the same school as Kwan. Boyd was selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2022 MLB Draft.

What it Means

As far as Benson goes, there should be an opportunity for the 24-year-old prospect to get a chance with the Reds. The outfield for the Reds did not impress at all in 2022, as a number of regulars from last year’s team floundered. But, that won’t be an easy task come the spring.

The likes of Jake Fraley and TJ Friedl did enough with the Reds last season to garner a shot at regular playing time come the start of this season. Fraley hit 12 home runs and 21 extra base hits in 68 games for the Reds, while also drawing a fair amount of walks in the process. In fact, the LSU product owned the 13th-highest OPS (.903) among all players that accumulated at least 190 PA in the second half.

Friedl, meanwhile, hit .240/.314/.436 with eight home runs and 23 extra base hits over 72 games. Fraley and Friedl, alongside new Red Wil Myers seem poised to be the three projected outfielders to start 2023. But, a player like Benson could earn a spot with a good spring. The toolsy left-hander hitter could be a nice fit in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Cincinnati. But at the same token, Benson could also produce results similar to now-former Red Aristides Aquino — another outfielder who owned plenty of pop and bat speed, but failed to make consistent contact.

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