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 defensive innings.
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.
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