On the heels of the most prolific regular season performance in Arkansas baseball history, sophomore outfielder Andrew Benintendi was named the SEC Player of the Year as voted on by the league’s head coaches on Monday.
Benintendi becomes the first player in program history to earn SEC Player of the Year honors and the first Razorback to win a major SEC award since Nick Schmidt was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year following the 2006 season.
“He started off good and he continued to get better and better as the season went on, and that’s what the good ones do,” said head coach Dave Van Horn. “He got heated up big time and he never cooled down. The last 20 games, we just watched him in awe. He’s done a tremendous job of letting the game come to him and not trying to do too much. He’s been such a catalyst for us. I’ve coached a lot of kids, but to see where he came from when he walked in the door 20 months ago to now and how he’s gotten better and better, it’s just a tribute to him and his work ethic.”
The Cincinnati native flipped a switch on March 31 and began his journey to greatness, raising his batting average 106 points over the final 26 games and skyrocketing to the top of every national offensive statistic. He finished the regular season as the SEC leader in batting average (.415), home runs (17), on base percentage (.511) and total bases (145), and led the country with a .771 slugging percentage.
Benintendi finished five RBI’s short of becoming the second Triple Crown winner in SEC history and is on the verge of becoming the third player in league history to lead the conference in home runs and batting average. He is the first player in Arkansas’ storied program with 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season and the only power five conference player to accomplish the feat this season.
Over the last 14 games, Benintendi has 11 multi-hit performances and has hit safely in 24 of the last 26 games, including riding a career-long 10-game hitting streak into the SEC Tournament. He has reached base safely in 24 consecutive games, including 41 of his last 59 plate appearances. The sophomore has not struck out over his last 11 games and 46 at bats.
Benintendi joins the likes of Todd Walker, Chris Burke, Todd Helton, Tim Hudson, Gordan Beckham and most recently AJ Reed to earn the prestigious honor as the best player in the Southeastern Conference. He becomes the first Razorback to capture Player of the Year honors since Philip Stidham won the award in 1990 during Arkansas’ days in the Southwest Conference.