WICHITA, Kan. — WKU Baseball catcher Hunter Wood has been named a semifinalist for
the 2017 Johnny Bench Award, the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission announced
Wednesday evening. The senior is one of 15 semifinalists chosen from 115 watch list
members who were added throughout the season.
One of the most important criteria for the award is that the player must be the
starting catcher for at least 70 percent of their team’s games, and the Hilltoppers’
backstop certainly checks off that box with flying colors. An All-Conference USA and
C-USA Defensive Player of the Year nominee, Wood has started 47-of-52 games behind
the plate for the Hilltoppers and caught 90 percent (414-of-461) of the team’s total
Wood is second on the team with a .914 OPS, which also ranks second among all C-USA
catchers. His 35 runs batted in and nine multi-RBI games ranks second on the club,
while his 16 multi-hit and eight-multi run performances are both third-most.
The WKU backstop is one of five players in C-USA to have two multi-homerun games,
which were vs. Jacksonville State (Feb. 25) and at Marshall (May 6). Against the
Thundering Herd, Wood became only the third switch-hitter in Division I baseball
this season to go deep from both sides of the plate in the same game. With nine
total homeruns, he ranks second on the team in long balls.
On the defensive side, Wood leads C-USA catchers and ranks seventh in the nation
with 21 runners caught stealing, while his overall rate of 36 percent (21-of-58) is
second in the conference. Among things that do not appear on the stat sheet, the Mt.
Washington native blocks multiple balls in the dirt per game to prevent opposing
runners moving up on wild pitches.
The Johnny Bench Award has been presented to the nation’s most outstanding
collegiate catcher since 2000. Notable winners include Major Leaguers Kurt Suzuki
(Cal State Fullerton, 2004), Buster Posey (Florida State, 2008) and Mike Zunino
(Florida, 2012). Last year’s recipient was Zack Collins of Miami (Fla.).
A selection committee narrowed the list to 15, while a national panel will vote to
trim the list to three finalists, who will be announced June 5. That trio will then
be invited to the trophy presentation on June 29 at the 20th Annual Greater Wichita
Sports Banquet, where the 2017 winner will be awarded.
* “It’s a tremendous honor to be named a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench
Award,” Wood said. “It has been a persistent effort to get better in all aspects.
It means a lot for the coaches to have faith in me and to give me the opportunity
to play every day. It would be unbelievable to be a finalist later in the process,
but that would just be icing on top of the cake.”
* “If you defined what a catcher stands for – leadership, handling pitchers,
blocking, throwing, offensively – you’re defining Hunter,” head coach John
Pawlowski said. “He has worked hard to put himself in this position. He has done
everything we’ve asked of him, then went above and beyond. What a tremendous year
and a great honor for him to be a semifinalist.”
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