2015 Draft: Arkansas’ Benintendi living high on the ‘Hog’

Andrew Benintendi came into the 2015 college baseball season as one of the top returning starters on an Arkansas Razorback team expected to compete for an SEC Western Division title.  Benintendi, excelled as a freshman for Arkansas in 2014, hitting .278/.368/.333.  Arkansas Head Coach Dave Van Horn decided to have Benintendi forgo playing in one of the normal summer college leagues to stay in Fayetteville and hit the weight room.  The result was Benintendi gaining 15 pounds and is now in the midst of one of the best college seasons in recent memory and is rocketing up the draft charts.

Heading into the final conference game of the season, Benintendi is batting an astounding .411/.504/.768 with 17 home runs and 51 runs batted in.  He also has a team-high 20 stolen bases.  The added weight has paid off and now scouts are showing up at Razorback games in droves to watch the Cincinnati, Ohio native.  A hot start to the season had pundits lauding him as SEC Player of the Year, but now expectations are that he will be named National Player of the Year.

Benintendi came to Arkansas after a record-setting high school career that was capped off by being named Gatorade Ohio High School Player of the Year in 2013.  He is the Ohio record-holder for career hits and runs scored and finished with a .542 career batting average.  Benintendi was a 31st round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, but that was only because he had told teams he was going to Arkansas no matter where he was drafted.

At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Benintendi certainly won’t be mistaken for looking like a typical power hitter.  But looks can be deceiving and Benintendi has been punishing opposing pitching staffs all season.  “I thought he would hit nine or 10 homers this season. But I’m not sure if I saw (17) at this juncture coming,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn told D1Baseball.com. “He’s just a really good player, and there’s a lot of leverage in his swing.”

While it is questionable whether power will carry Benintendi to the big leagues, he still has the glove and speed to stick as a center fielder and will steal bases as well.  He may not hit as many home runs in the pros, but has gap power to all fields and will hit plenty of doubles and triples.  A gold glove-caliber CF with that kind of bat has scouts drooling, but yet he has still managed to sneak up on them as well.  The fact that he is a draft-eligible sophomore because he turns 21 within 45 days of the draft went unnoticed by many at the start of the season.

Benintendi has steadily risen up the draft boards as the season has progressed.  The latest from Baseball America has him projected to be the 9th overall pick to the Chicago Cubs.  And then there is this from MLB.com:

“Teams who like college hitters who perform, especially in competitive conferences, will undoubtedly be giving Benintendi a long look at Arkansas…The outfielder has a smooth swing from the left side of the plate, showing the ability to consistently barrel up balls and make consistently hard contact. Not known for his power previously, the Cincinnati native has added some strength and was among the nation’s leaders in home runs this season. Benintendi has excellent speed, which should allow him to be a basestealing threat and stick in center field.” ~ MLB.com

Benintendi’s breakout season has seemingly caught opposing teams off-guard as well.  The scouting report has just not been able to keep up with his numbers.  It seems as though his stats are changing by the minute.  Teams have been pitching around him as much as possible, but still his average has risen over 100 points in the last 24 games.  He has become the first player in program history to have 15-plus home runs and steal 20-plus bases in a season.

The Razorbacks have mirrored Benintendi’s hot streak by winning 22 of their last 30 games and are heading into the postseason looking to make their way back to Omaha.  It would be a great sight to see them their playing as well as watching Benintendi lift the Dick Howser Trophy for being named the top collegiate player.

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