Iowa Cubs coach Griffin Benedict stands near the plate during batting practice on a hot summer day with a fungo bat in his hand. Left-handed hitter Benedict is between two ground strikes against Iowa infielder Jared Young, who is patrolling at third base.
“Be quick,” Benedict shouts at Young, “but don’t hurry.”
Benedict then throws a ball in the air, hits it, and bounces a grounder across the infield. Young, who is still trying to get used to the job with Benedict’s help, fills it cleanly.
“We’ll be working on different things,” Young said later.
Benoît can teach just about anything. It’s because he did just about everything. Benedict, a former minor league player, got his first coaching job as a bullpen catcher for the San Diego Padres.
Since then, Benoît has done everything he can to help the players. Because of this, he quickly rose through the coaching ranks. Now that he’s in Triple-A with Iowa, he could very well be a manager in the making.
“He’s put himself in a good position for the rest of his career,” Iowa manager Marty Pevey said.
It has been anything but a conventional route, however.
Benoit has a difficult decision to make
Benedict was aiming to qualify for the major leagues as a catcher.
He was a 16th-round pick by the Padres and was preparing for his third season in 2011 when he was brought in for a meeting with members of the San Diego front office midway through spring training.
Benoit was told he could try to keep fighting for a job. But he knew from the conversation that he was probably the odd man out and that his playing days with the Padres might be almost over.
The Padres, however, offered Benedict another opportunity. He was a big league bullpen catcher. Benedict could also help with some of the coaching duties and learn from manager Bud Black’s staff.
It was not an easy decision. It wasn’t a glamorous job warming up pitchers. And that meant leaving as a player. However, it was an opportunity to step into the big leagues and start a coaching career.
“It was a tough decision to make,” Benedict said.
Benoît didn’t know what to do.
Should he try to fix the problem with the Padres? Should he look for another team?
Or should he accept the Padres’ job offer?
He needed time to think. So, after the conversation, he walked out of the team compound and called his father, Bruce Benedict, for advice.
Bruce, a scout, had played 12 seasons in the big leagues and was a two-time All-Star. They discussed things and weighed the options together. There were pros and cons on both sides.
Bruce told Griffin, who was 23 at the time, how he had always urged players to play as long as they could. Make them rip off your uniform, he told them.
On the other hand, Griffin was presented with a great opportunity, Bruce said. It was a chance to be in the big leagues and learn from the best players.
After all, Bruce had seen Griffin’s coaching qualities before.
“He sees things other people don’t and when you’re in the big leagues they’ll recognize that you do, that you see things that can help things,” his dad said.
It didn’t take long for Griffin to make a choice.
Shortly after hanging up the phone with his father, he returned to the facility and told staff he was going to take the job. That night, he moved his clothes from the minor league complex to the coach’s office in the major league complex.
“Even though it was hard for me to stop playing that day, I felt sorry for those kids who went home and took a plane home,” Griffin said. “I changed dressing rooms. I felt extremely lucky to be able to play and to have a decision.”
He made the most of it.
Benoît climbs the rows of the bullpen
Benedict did everything he could: he caught relievers, warmed up pitchers and hung out with relievers during games.
He became a trusted member of Black’s staff.
Black, who was impressed with Benedict’s baseball background and work ethic, gave him other responsibilities.
Benedict did an advanced scouting of future San Diego opponents. He tried to learn what they were doing, when they were doing it, and who they were doing certain things with.
He helped with baserunning, bunting, catching and defending. Each season he specialized in something. It didn’t matter to Benoît what it was.
“I just wanted to learn and make an impact,” Benedict said.
Benoît had a major impact, especially with the San Diego pitchers. He wrote scouting reports and helped staff break down starters and relievers.
Even back then, Black saw Benedict’s coaching potential.
“I thought there were a lot of upsides with Benny early on,” Black said.
Benedict even stayed with the Padres after Black, now the Colorado Rockies manager, was fired in 2015. By then, Benedict had developed a solid reputation in coaching circles around the game.
He landed with the Cubs organization for the 2021 season and got a job on the Pevey staff in Iowa. He’s been there ever since, working as a batting coach, bench coach, third base coach and backup manager when Pevey was briefly out earlier this season.
“He’s a baseball man,” Pevey said. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s talking about. He has a good sense of things.”
Like his time with the Padres, Benoît does a bit of everything. He hits fungos, throws batting practices, coaches third and helps with paperwork
Benoît once again was a huge asset. Iowa wide receiver John Hicks thanks him for helping him get through the early-season struggles.
“His overall knowledge of the game is really impressive,” Hicks said. “He’s an easy guy to bounce back from. He has different perspectives.”
Benedict is 35 but has already quickly risen through the coaching ranks. That seems a bit hard to believe for a former bullpen catcher.
But both Pevey and Black believe he is a future manager himself.
Benoit hopes so.
“Managers have a huge responsibility to keep players in the right direction, which is to be good people and to win Major League Baseball games,” Benedict said. “So to take on a challenge like that, I think it would be fantastic at some point.”
Tommy Birch, the Register’s sports entrepreneur and featured reporter, has worked at the newspaper since 2008. He is Iowa’s 2018 and 2020 Sports Writer of the Year. Contact him at tbirc[email protected] or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.