Youngster Benson having lots of fun

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Will Benson was the Cleveland Indians’ first-round draft choice in 2016 and spent the season in the Arizona Rookie League.

NILES — Exuberant, upbeat and always having a good time, the Cleveland Indians’ 2016 first-round draft pick, Will Benson, will be bringing his enthusiasm to Eastwood Field this summer.

For Benson, having fun playing baseball is important, but he’s still learning how to maximize the enjoyment.

“I think, honestly, I used to take the game way too seriously — I kind of still do now,” Benson said. “I love being around these guys because they have a lot of fun with it and they kind of loosen me up. I’m really just trying to have fun and just be in the moment.”

Benson admits he’s quite the character, but he also has a lot of it, as well. Benson turned 19 on Friday, but the Atlanta Westminster High School product already approaches the game like a 10-year Major League veteran.

Benson’s a guy who still drives a 2001 Ford Explorer, despite getting a $2.5 million signing bonus from the Tribe. He admits that the truck is in rough shape, however, and perhaps needs a little repair work.

While the vehicle needs a little work, the most important thing that Benson is looking to fix is his hitting. The highly-touted high schooler is big and strong at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, while batting and throwing left-handed.

Back in Georgia, he batted .454 with eight home runs, 41 RBIs and a 1.380 OPS in 35 games as a senior, while leading his Westminster Wildcats to their first state title since 1975. Along the way, he was named to Rawlings’ 2016 Perfect Game All-American Team, as well as appearing in Team USA and Under Armour showcases at places like Wrigley Field.

However, all of that high school success did not immediately translate when he debuted with the Arizona League (Rookie League) Indians a summer ago. His glovework in right field was exceptional, but his hitting needed fine-tuning, as he hit six home runs and drove in 27 runs in 44 games, but batted just .209 and struck out 60 times along the way.

“Honestly, I underestimated the transition,” Benson said. “I did exactly what you’re not supposed to do, which is look too far ahead. I did those things, but I learned. That’s what I really got out of it is that I learned and I really got better.

“(Hitting is) one of my weaknesses right now, and I just really worked hard, day after day in extended spring training. I stayed late and worked on certain fundamental things that were slacking during AZL, so I kind of got to it.”

Benson says that he’s already developed a strong bond with his Scrapper teammates and coaches, but one coach in particular stands out. Hitting coach Pete Lauritson will be the one tasked with turning the big-time prospect into a star at the plate.

In fact, it was Lauritson who has given Benson the best advice so far, telling the youngster that everything is a process that they’ll get through together. Benson has certainly taken that advice to heart, and feels that he has already bought-in.

The funky sock and foxtail glove-wearing Benson displays plenty of style on and off the field, and he hopes to bring that pizzazz to the Indians someday soon. In the meantime, he’ll try to help the Scrappers get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

And while short-season Class A minor league baseball prides itself on development first, it doesn’t stop Benson from having higher expectations for his club. “Win. Win, win, win, win, win,” Benson said.

“It’s a process — that’s fair enough. But once you step in between the lines, it’s time to compete and win and do whatever you have to do. We’re out here to win a championship.”

It’ll be awhile before the 2017 Scrappers’ fate is determined, but one thing is for certain, Will Benson will have a lot of fun along the way.