The Guardians have opened up a spot on their 40-man roster and reduced the number of left-handed outfield prospects they have by trading former first-round pick, Will Benson, to the Cincinnati Reds.
Cleveland selected Benson 14th overall in the 2016 draft as an 18-year-old, but development was not always a smooth process for the 6’5” outfielder. Benson had a clear pattern of reaching a level, struggling, then figuring it out, which kept him in the minors until 2022.
In 2022, Benson made huge strides at Triple-A Columbus, cutting his strikeout rate from consistently being in the 30% range to 22.7% and accompanying it with an 18.7% walk rate, a 153 wRC+, 16 stolen bases, and 17 home runs. This earned him a trip to Cleveland, where, as his track record predicted, he struggled at the plate in his limited playing time.
The Reds are acquiring a physically gifted ballplayer who clearly has the work ethic to stick with something even when it doesn’t come easy to him. Benson is regularly involved in charity work as he discussed on MLB Network just the other day and you won’t find a teammate with a negative thing to say about him. I’m sure Cleveland fans can agree in hoping he finds success with the Reds (except when the Ohio Cup is on the line).
It is difficult to project that the significant reduction in strikeouts Benson made in 2022 is sustainable, and Benson doesn’t necessarily profile as an exceptional defender, so it’s not hard to see why he was expendable to the Guardians who have left-handed outfield options in Will Brennan, Richie Palacios (in left field, at least) and George Valera on the 40-man, already. To some degree, the Benson trade functions as if the Guardians believe in Palacios more than Benson, which isn’t a philosophy I share, but I’m also sure Benson had more trade value than Palacios, so perhaps it was the only realistic way to open up a roster spot.
In return for Benson, the Guardians acquired the Reds’ second round of the 2022 MLB Draft with the 73rd pick and a player to be named later or cash.
Boyd is listed at 6-foot, 201 pounds, and is a right-handed hitting outfielder. Oregon State blogs describe Boyd as a player who does a lot of things well but nothing spectacularly, and notes he hit .373 with a .490 on-base percentage in his final year as a Beaver.
You may have heard of another Oregon State outfielder who hit for a high average and was known as more of a solid, not elite, prospect who now bats leadoff for the Guardians. Boyd was known as a player with good bat-to-ball skills who was able to hit the ball to all fields — sounds like someKwan else I know.
It’s important to note that Boyd’s first taste of professional ball in Single-A for the Reds didn’t go well, as he put up a 49 wRC+ with a 36/10% K/BB% — but it was only 21 games. The ever-insightful Justin Lada posted some clips of Boyd last night.
Justin Boyd didn't hit much in his brief pro debut last year but had a big year at Oregon State.— Justin L. (@JL_Baseball) February 9, 2023
Walked almost as much as he struck out. (16%-18%)
Some pop. Stole 24 bags. https://t.co/0rSqjmkLyD
I will also note that Boyd accompanied his impressive final season at Oregon State by growing a distinguished mustache which you can view in MLB’s pre-draft video on him here. Boyd is not Rule 5 eligible until 2025, giving him plenty of time to develop in Cleveland’s system while the Guardians sort out the outfield options above him.
The always excellent Jeff Ellis (who co-hosts Locked on Guardians with Justin) thinks Boyd could have reasonably been put in our recently completed top 20 Guardians prospect list.
Justin Boyd will move in my top 20 prospects, ceiling is lower than Benson but I would bet on his chances as a future regular being higher. Cincy is gambling here— Jeffmlbdraft (@jeffMLBdraft) February 9, 2023
I haven’t seen any word about the PTBNL and what kind of quality the prospect the Guardians should expect to receive, but I think a lower-level prospect and Boyd for Benson is a good return.
It’s crazy to think that Benson is only three years older than Boyd after all the time he has spent in the Guardians’ system, but it’s probably fair to assume that his most likely outcome is as a fourth outfielder with the ability to take a walk and hit an occasional home run, but also strike out a lot.
In Boyd, the Guardians have targeted another player with a contact-oriented approach of the type with which they have clearly fallen in love, as well as opened up a roster spot for a backup catcher or bullpen arm to make the team out of camp.