FAYETTEVILLE — “Benny Baseball” hasn’t played for coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks since 2015, but the Andrew Benintendi sophomore game-plan situates in place and underway for current Razorbacks 2018 All-Southeastern Conference freshmen Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin.
Benintendi, the star left fielder for the Boston Red Sox in his third major league season, signed with Arkansas for the 2014 season out of Cincinnati as among the nation’s most heralded high school players.
His debut didn’t live up to his billing. He did fine for most freshman, playing 60 games, mostly as the starting center fielder and hitting .276 but only with one home run and 27 RBI.
More seasoning with summer ball would have been the normal prescription to improve Benintendi for 2016 but Van Horn opted to keep him in Fayetteville, stressing lifting weights over swinging the bat.
A bulked up but still fast Benintendi blossomed in 2015 to be honored with the Golden Spikes Award, the college baseball equivalent to the Heisman Trophy.
He led the 2015 Razorbacks to the College World Series while hitting .390 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI.
Freshman left fielder Kjerstad of Amarillo, Texas, and freshman third baseman Martin, of Lonoke, run far ahead of Benintendi’s Razorbacks pace, having led the 2018 Razorbacks not only to the College World Series but national runner-up while regarded as the best two freshmen in the SEC.
Kjerstad was named the SEC Freshman of the Year but a case could be made for either one as both were named to the SEC All-Freshman team and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Freshman All-American team.
Kjerstad started every game for the 44-21 Razorbacks, 18-12 in the SEC as SEC West co-champions, and hit .332 with 14 home runs and 58 RBI.
Martin, playing 67 of the 69 games, hit a team-leading .345 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI.
Van Horn, at Tuesday night’s Razorback Club meeting in Harrison, revealed the summer plan for Kjerstad.
“I told him I think he needed to go home for a couple weeks, come back to school and start lifting, and that’s what he ended up doing,” Van Horn said. “Sometimes, you just need to give yourself and your body a little bit of a break. I think it’ll end up paying off come the spring of 2019.”
Wednesday, it was confirmed that Martin also has spends the summer first resting up from the long season and bulking up for the next one.
Arkansas started former coach Bret Bielema’s last football August preseason starting its best guard at center.
This August preseason new coach Chad Morris begins playing perhaps his best center at guard and ready to move him if need be.
Having been both an outstanding starting guard and All-American center for the Razorbacks before drafted last spring by the NFL’s Detroit Lions, Frank Ragnow was by far the Razorbacks’ best player at either guard, he started one game there last season, or center, the position he starred at last season until injury ended his 2018 campaign at midseason.
Now, senior Hjalte Froholdt is deemed Arkansas’ best offensive lineman as a starting guard who may have to be the best center, too, if unproven sophomores Dylan Hays of Little Rock Christian and Ty Clary of Fayetteville don’t step up to the task before the Sept. 1 season opener against Eastern Illinois.
Zach Rogers, last year’s center after Ragnow was injured, opted to forego his final 2018 season of eligibility to start his outside of football career having already graduated.
“We are trying to move some guys around and do some different things,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said. “We’ve got to find our best five. Whether that’s moving Hjalte at center or leaving Hjalte at guard, we’re just trying to find our best five. Our biggest concern is our lack of depth on the offensive line.”
Though Froholdt, an amazing story as a Denmark native first playing competitive American football as a foreign exchange student and defensive lineman in Ohio and lettering his true freshman year at Arkansas as a backup defensive lineman before he moved starting left offensive guard in the spring of 2016, has never snapped a football during a real game, Craddock is convinced he can play center if need be.
“Oh, yeah,” Craddock said. “He can play center or guard.”