SEATTLE -- Once the 10 Boston Red Sox officials who traveled with the team to Southern California last week agreed it wasn't in their best interest to trade top prospect Andrew Benintendi -- not even for Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale -- there was really only one question left to be asked: When, exactly, should they call up the 22-year-old outfield phenom?
The answer: Tuesday.
Too soon? Maybe.
Benintendi was drafted just last year and has played only 151 games in the minors, none above the Double-A level. He has 237 at-bats at Double-A Portland, eight more than center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. when he made the leap to the big leagues out of spring training in 2013. Three years later, there isn't a member of the Red Sox baseball operations staff who would deny that Bradley was rushed.
But the Sox didn't mindlessly decide to call up Benintendi on Tuesday. They had considerable discussion over the weekend, weighing pros and cons and seeking input from their top scouts. And they also compared Benintendi's development over the past 13 months to New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto and Chicago Cubs catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber, both of whom made their major-league debuts one year after being drafted in the first round out of high-profile college programs.
"Our people kept coming up and saying, 'We think we can play at the big-league level and we think he's ready,'" president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday night after a 2-1 victory on Mookie Betts' ninth-inning solo homer against Seattle Mariners closer Steve Cishek. "It really came down to, we think he can come up here and contribute to the club and help us win. And that's important at this time."
Based strictly on his talent, Benintendi is ready for this. He's batting .312 with 31 doubles, 12 triples, nine homers, 16 stolen bases, 39 walks, only 39 strikeouts and a .910 OPS in 97 games between two minor-league levels. And after a slow start at Portland, he's 54-for-159 with 14 doubles, four triples, eight homers, 19 walks, 17 strikeouts and a 1.037 OPS in his last 43 games.
A natural center fielder, Benintendi recently moved over to left. Once he proved he could make that adjustment with relative ease, there was little doubt that he could do it at the big-league level, too.
Of course, this is about more than talent. Benintendi wasn't in big-league camp and played in only a handful of major-league spring-training games. For the Red Sox to drop him into the middle of a three-way race for the AL East crown, they had to be sure he's mature enough to handle everything that comes with it.
Dombrowski saw Benintendi play firsthand after the All-Star break in Portland while the Red Sox were playing at Yankee Stadium. Player personnel chief Allard Baird was there a few weeks earlier. Pro scouting director Gus Quattlebaum has seen Benintendi play recently, too. And last weekend, Dombrowski and general manager Mike Hazen sought the advice of veteran scouts Paul Fryer and Gary Hughes, who just so happened to be watching Portland play in Binghamton, New York.
"They thought he was ready," Dombrowski said. "He has a strong personality, he has a quality work ethic, good makeup. If he goes through an adjustment period, which could happen, we think he can handle that."
The Red Sox intend to ease Benintendi into his big-league career. He won't be in the lineup until Wednesday night against Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and, for now, manager John Farrell said the lefty-hitting Benintendi likely will split time in left field with righty-swinging Bryce Brentz, which will enable versatile Brock Holt to move back into the utility role that makes him so valuable to the Red Sox. When Benintendi plays, he will bat in the lower half of the order, according to Dombrowski.
Benintendi will be the Red Sox's seventh left fielder this season. When veteran Chris Young was injured in June, Dombrowski said he wasn't opposed to calling up players directly from Double-A. But he also believed Benintendi needed more at-bats at Portland before he could be considered.
So, in discussing whether Benintendi's time has come, the Red Sox looked at Conforto and Schwarber.
Like Benintendi, the seventh overall pick out of Arkansas in 2015, Conforto and Schwarber were first-rounders from Oregon State and Indiana, respectively. Schwarber was in Double-A when the Cubs called him up last June. He batted .270 with 16 homers and an .842 OPS in 69 big-league games and became a cult hero in Chicago during the postseason. Conforto, meanwhile, was called up from Double-A last July 24 and batted .270 with nine homers and an .841 OPS in 56 games for the Mets.
"We had some of those same names come up in our conversations and said, 'What do you think compared to those guys?'" Dombrowski said. "Our feelings were that he could do it. Our people felt he's a good hitter, approach-wise, as those guys. Schwarber is a different type of hitter, more power-type guy. But we felt [Benintendi] would be capable of doing it."
And so, the Benintendi era is about to begin for the Red Sox. They cleared a roster spot Monday night by designating utilityman Michael Martinez for assignment (reliever Tommy Layne was also designated to make room for newly acquired reliever Fernando Abad). Benintendi is expected to fly to Seattle on Tuesday and be available off the bench against the Mariners.
"By all accounts, all reports, whether it's the staff at the minor-league side or scouts that have gone through and watched him repeatedly, his time, he's ready," Farrell said. "We're going to get a firsthand look at this very soon."