Andrew Benintendi takes batting practice during spring training. (For Sun-Times/John Antonoff)
PEORIA, Ariz. — Andrew Benintendi has had anything but an eye-popping spring, hasn’t done all that much in spectacular fashion, his quiet demeanor meshing perfectly with his game on the field.
But not to worry. Signed in the offseason to the richest contract in White Sox history — eight words the unassuming 5-9 left fielder is likely already tired of hearing — the left-handed Benintendi is in a good place 11 days before Opening Day.
Benintendi’s defense in left field has come as advertised — since 2017 he leads all left fielders with 31 defensive runs saved per Fangraphs — and his swing is coming around despite what his .208/.367/.333 hitting line in 12 games might suggest to box-score readers. It’s spring training, after all, and the swing matters more than the numbers.
“It feels pretty good,” Benintendi said. “This spring more than others, I’m not really focused on results as much as feel. I’m recognizing pitches, not getting fooled too many times. Yeah, my swing feels pretty good right now.”
Against the Dodgers Saturday, Benintendi lifted a well-struck fly ball into the bullpen beyond the right-field fence at Camelback for his first home run this spring.
“I’m just trying to backspin balls and hit line drives,” Benintendi said.
“Yeah, that was perfect. I’ve been working on trying to pull the ball to the right side in the air. That was perfect backspin so that was good to see.”
Benintendi hit 20 home runs for the Red Sox when he finished second to Aaron Judge in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, but he had just five for the Royals (93 games) and Yankees (33) last season. The spacious dimensions of Kauffman Stadium were at play, and the hitter-friendly dimensions of Guaranteed Rate Field should be in a favorable way.
“A lot of those long flyouts will turn into doubles and home runs without even trying to change anything,” Benintendi said.
Grifol figures to bat Benintendi third, the traditional spot for the best overall hitter in the lineup. Benintendi has batted third 394 times during his career, second to 1,371 in the 2-hole.
“Nothing changes. My approach stays the same,” he said. “I wish hitting third automatically got me 35 home runs but that’s not going to happen. Nothing changes — line drives.”
Grifol, a former hitting coach, was the Royals’ bench coach last season. Benintendi is low on the manager’s list of concerns right now.
“He knows his swing, he knows the way he feels,” Grifol said Sunday. “If he tells me he’s in a good spot, he’s in a good spot. The only thing I do is sometimes I’ll challenge him a little bit — I played him four days in a row with one rain date. And he’ll never say ‘no I don’t want to play.’ He’s a professional. He’s been around the block a few times.”
Benintendi combined to hit a career-high .304/.373/.399 with 23 doubles in 2022 and was named to his first All-Star team. He batted .318/.388/.428 against right-handers, numbers that helped him land $75 million over five years as a free agent in the offseason.
He knows what to do.
“Focus on what I’m trying to do instead of results,” he said. “Chase results in spring training is just going to tick you off.”