Benavides realizing immense potential

Mustangs starter Alex Benavides has been a solid all-around player. Photo by Robert Eliason.

One moment, Alex Benavides was baffling the Monterey hitters with a wicked slider. The next moment, the Gilroy High senior was making a nifty snag playing first base. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound San Diego State commit has displayed a variety of skills for a Mustangs team that entered the week in second place in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division with a 5-4 record.

Even though Gilroy wound up losing to Monterey, 1-0, it still has plenty of reason for optimism going forward. The Mustangs have a host of capable arms, with Benavides and Sergio Sanchez headlining the top of the rotation. Sanchez has been pretty much lights-out for most of his starts, and Benavides has developed into a game changer type of player.

“Alex has matured in the last four years, and we’re proud of him for how far he’s come,” Mustangs coach Billy Holler said.

Benavides admitted he was somewhat of a hothead in his freshman year, and that he needed a lot of growing up to do.

“I had a big head since I made varsity in my freshman year,” he said. “I felt like I was pretty cool, but I got shut up pretty quick after I went 0 for 12 to start off freshman year. Over the years Billy and (assistant coach) Dennis Castro have been great coaches. With Billy especially, he emphasized not just being a good baseball player, but that you have to be a good person and man. They’ve definitely helped me mature over the years.”

Gilroy’s highlight of the season came in an epic 20-inning game against Palma last month, a contest that spanned four days, two different venues and a whole lot of resourcefulness. The Mustangs prevailed, 3-2, with Benavides able to come in and close things out.

“We played 12 innings at home before it got dark,” Benavides said. “Then we played eight or nine more innings over at Palma. That was a phenomenal game.”

Against Monterey, Benavides allowed four hits and one run while striking out seven over six innings. Benavides had his fastball and slider working, the latter pitch often which has a ton of break on it. When Benavides is on, his slider looks as if it will hit a right-handed batter at the halfway point before sharply darting back to the inside half of the plate.

“That is my bread and butter pitch,” said Benavides, who went to first base after pitching and made a nice backhanded snag to record a putout in the top of the seventh inning. “I take pride in playing defense, and even though pitching is my favorite thing to do, I always want to make a play wherever I’m at.”

Richard Perez, Diego Hsu and Benavides had the lone hits against Monterey, while Andrew Castro reached base in both of his plate appearances courtesy of being hit by pitches.

Even though Benavides started playing baseball at a young age, his game didn’t really take off until he hit a big growth spurt the summer before his eighth grade year. Benavides estimated he went from 5-foot-6 to 6-foot, and months later he was able to put more zip on his pitches and gain added confidence.

By his sophomore year, Benavides was a pitcher’s only (PO) player in the USA Trials. Holler said what has come out this season is only scratching the surface of Benavides’ immense talent, a player who more than likely will continue to grow in every facet of the game. Benavides actually grew up playing soccer because his dad, Ben, played soccer and didn’t know much about baseball. Still, Benavides credited his dad for making one sound decision.

“I was born a lefty and grew up playing sports that way,” he said. “One day we’re watching TV and my dad sees all these guys throwing right-handed. He said to me, ‘You’ve got to throw right-handed.’ He switched me when I was just 5; I guess it worked out well.”

Benavides is the youngest of five children, and he said his siblings have all had a positive impact in his life.

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