Minor League Insider: Ex-big leaguer makes impact at Rangers’ Double A Frisco

Posted Saturday, Jun. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Elsewhere on the farm Triple A Round Rock: Left-hander Martin Perez allowed one run on five hits in six innings in his start Friday. He has a 2.63 ERA over four starts with the Express. … Right-handed reliever Kyle McClellan has two consecutive scoreless outings and has a 2.00 ERA over eight minor-league appearances this season. High A Myrtle Beach: Outfielder Preston Beck had consecutive two-hit games on Thursday and Friday, a good sign for what has been a rough stretch offensively. The UT Arlington product went into Sunday batting .221 over his first 40 games with the Pelicans. Low A Hickory: First baseman Ronald Guzman is batting .294 with two home runs in his first five games since returning from a knee injury. … Outfielder Nick Williams is off to a good start in June, batting .370 with two homers in the first six games this month.

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Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes for a player to realize his full potential. Just look at what Chris Davis is doing with the Baltimore Orioles since leaving the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers are hoping the same holds true for Joe Benson, an athletic outfielder who never fulfilled his potential as a 2006 second-round pick with the Minnesota Twins. Texas acquired the 25-year-old off waivers on May 25, and he has shined thus far in a small sample size with the Frisco RoughRiders.

“We’ve known about him and we liked him, and we’re banking that a fresh start re-energizes him and gets him going,” said Jake Krug, the Rangers’ director of minor-league operations. “He seems like he’s in a really good place early on.”

Getting to the Rangers’ organization has been quite a ride for Benson.

The Twins drafted him out of Joliet [Ill.] Catholic Academy, the school best known for producing Rudy, the never-give-up walk-on at Notre Dame whose story was made into a movie. Benson said he’s never met Dan “Rudy” Ruettiger personally, but he does know his brother, Francis, and his nephew, John Ruettiger, an outfielder in the Orioles’ organization.

Benson was a football star himself in high school, setting an Illinois single-game record with 363 yards rushing. But he turned down a scholarship to play at Purdue, and began what has become an injury-riddled ride through the minor leagues.

He had a stint on the disabled list with a back issue in 2008, and then missed six weeks after injuring his right hand in June 2009.

How did that injury occur?

“I punched a fence and instead of catching the chain link, I caught the metal post,” Benson said. “I lost that battle. Had to get a plate and four screws in my right hand.”

At least Benson had a good sense of humor about it four years later.

“I just lost it in the moment,” he said. “I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last baseball player to injure himself like that. I’m a competitor, have that football mentality and a quick Irish temper. Everything escalated at the same point.”

In 2010, Benson was healthy and reached Double A. He dealt with a meniscus issue for a few weeks in 2011, but reached the big leagues later that season after batting .285 with 16 home runs in 111 games with Double A.

Last year, Benson started out at Triple A but struggled and was demoted to Double A. He also had surgery on his hamate bone in his left hand in late May, and then had his season come to an end in late August with microfracture surgery on his left knee.

Benson was cleared for full baseball activity when spring training began this season, and was in a competition to win the center field job but lost out to Aaron Hicks. He batted .151 in 18 Grapefruit League games.

Benson then struggled at Triple A Rochester, batting .192 with a .256 on-base percentage over 42 games. That proved to be the end of the road with the Twins, and the Rangers grabbed Benson after he slipped through 27 teams on waivers.

“[Minnesota GM] Terry Ryan always believed in my abilities and skill set, so it was a disappointment to let him down,” Benson said. “I think it all just got in my own head and snowballed. I was batting below .200 after 10 games, then 20 games, 30 games, and some of the pressure got to me.

“I tried everything and worked with everyone to get out of it. I don’t know what it was, but as soon as the Rangers claimed me, it was a fresh start and a clean slate.”

So far, so good. Benson batted .389 with four home runs and six RBIs in his first six games with the RoughRiders, but he has been sidelined the past week with a groin issue.

“I never would’ve imagined starting off anywhere near as good as I have,” Benson said. “The ultimate goal is to get back to the big leagues, and that’s what I’m trying to do. And it’s nice to have a new beginning, new ballpark, new team, new uniform, new everything, and just go out and play.”

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison

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