FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s difficult for Andrew Benintendi to imagine what the pitches will look like starting March 28.

For the first time in his career, he’ll start the season as the regular leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Sox, which means he’ll hit in front of Mookie Betts, the American League MVP.

Any pitcher who doesn’t want to give in to Benintendi must deal with Betts, whose career numbers with runners on base jump 23 points in batting average and 83 points in OPS compared to hitting with the bases empty.

“I’m not going to change at all,” Benintendi said. “I changed my freshman year of college and I tried to be a slap guy, beat it into the ground and run it out. But I’m not going to do that this year.”

The Red Sox don’t want him to.

As the game continues to evolve, so does the traditional leadoff hitter. Where speed and on-base percentage once dominated that position, more teams are putting some of their best overall hitters at the top of the order.

In the past two years there have been 10 leadoff hitters with at least 20 home runs, including Betts, who hit 32 last year. Over the entire 1990s, there were 13 leadoff hitters to hit 20 homers.

Meanwhile, the speedy leadoff guy is starting to disappear. While there were 65 leadoff guys who stole at least 30 bases in the 1990s, there have been just 31 in the past 10 years, and only two last season: Betts and Whit Merrifield of the Royals.

Benintendi has speed – 41 steals in the past two years – but that’s not what the Sox need out of that spot.

“He’ll drive the ball,” Manager Alex Cora said. “How many doubles did he hit last year, (41)? That’s part of the progression. Remember (Indians third baseman) Jose Ramirez two or three years ago, he hit like 50 doubles. And all of a sudden some of those doubles became homers. I think it’s the same thing with Benny.

“I don’t want him to try to hit homers. I want him to barrel balls and if he does that, his OPS is going to be up there. His on-base percentage is going to be up there. He’ll be fine. He’s going to be a productive leadoff hitter.”

When Betts was injured for 21 games last year, Benintendi hit .322 with a .979 OPS out of the leadoff spot compared to a .285 average and .809 OPS in 120 games hitting second.

One way or another, he’s been constantly productive through his first two full seasons in the majors, hitting .280 overall while averaging 18 homers per year.

But he’s still evolving, as he showed last February when he reported to camp with about 20 pounds of added weight and started demolishing the ball all over southwest Florida. He hit .391 with seven doubles and four homers in just 46 at-bats that spring.

In the regular season, he hit 13 homers with 38 extra-base hits overall before July 1. After that, the power just about disappeared. He had just three homers and 25 extra-base hits in the final three months.

“I think I was getting pitched differently,” he said. “I was able to hit some out early. And after the first half it was like I got nothing on the inner half of the plate. It was just, hit it off the wall or drive it the other way.”

Without a home run in the postseason, Benintendi put on more weight in the offseason, reporting to camp as heavy as he was last year.

“That worked,” he said. “I just eat a lot, good stuff, steak and protein. I mean, I’ll probably end up losing seven pounds here. We’ll sees. I felt about the same, honestly. I think now as I get older, I’m going to want to come in a little lighter because I’m sure my metabolism will slow down. Right now I can afford to eat some bad stuff. I’m sure that will end at some point.”

The weight doesn’t necessarily mean more power.

“Maybe a little bit, not a huge difference, but a little bit,” he said. “Everybody talks about how I didn’t hit any homers last year. Whatever. It was four less than the year before (16 compared to 20). I’ll take a higher average than the year before (.290 from .271) with less homers. I think that’s my game, so I’ll leave a lot of the home runs to other guys.”