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story.lead_photo.caption Andrew Benintendi of Arkansas connects with the ball against Mississippi Valley State during the fourth inning Wednesday, April 8, 2015, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn would love to have Andrew Benintendi roaming center field and batting third for the Razorbacks next season, but he isn't counting on it.

Benintendi, a sophomore, is eligible for the Major League Baseball Draft because he turns 21 on July 6. The draft will be held June 8-10, and any college player who turns 21 within 45 days of the draft is eligible rather than having to wait until after his junior season.

TODAY’S GAME

KENTUCKY AT ARKANSAS

WHEN 6:35 p.m.

WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville

RECORDS Arkansas 18-15, 5-7 SEC; Kentucky 18-13, 4-7.

TICKETS $12 reserved, $10 general admission.

SERIES Arkansas leads 35-23.

PITCHING MATCHUP Kentucky: Zach Brown (RHP, 2-3, 3.06 ERA). Arkansas: Trey Killian (RHP, 0-2, 4.23 ERA)

RADIO RSP statewide radio network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.

INTERNET SEC Network Plus

SHORT HOPS Kentucky is led by outfielders Tom Ka’ai (.384 batting average) and Kyle Barnett (.382). … The Razorbacks are 7-3 in their past 10 games, including taking 2 of 3 from Ole Miss and Auburn. … All three games in the series are being shown on the Internet on SEC Network Plus. … Kentucky has a .303 team batting average, but the Wildcats have hit only 14 home runs. Arkansas is batting .292 with 32 home runs. … Kentucky is 5-4 against Arkansas since 2011. … Razorbacks right fielder Tyler Spoon has a 10-game hitting streak to raise his batting average to .342.

THE WEEK AHEAD

TODAY Kentucky, 6:35 p.m.

SATURDAY Kentucky, 6:05 p.m.

SUNDAY Kentucky, 12:05 p.m.

MONDAY off

TUESDAY Stephen F. Austin, 6:35 p.m.

WEDNESDAY Stephen F. Austin, 3:05 p.m.

THURSDAY off

"I don't see him coming back," Van Horn said. "The scouts love him."

What's not to love?

You want hitting? Benintendi is batting .350 going into Arkansas' three-game series against Kentucky that opens at 6:35 p.m. today at Baum Stadium.

Power? He leads the SEC and is tied for second nationally with 11 home runs.

Speed? He's stolen 12 bases in 14 attempts and scored 30 runs.

Defense? He hasn't committed an error in 33 games and has two assists throwing out base runners.

"His talent is really coming out now," Van Horn said. "Unless something crazy happens, we feel like he's going to have to turn down a lot of money to come back. We'd love to have him back, and maybe he'll want to come back. We'll see how that goes."

Benintendi said he has no idea how high he might be drafted if he maintains his level of play.

"I don't really want to think about that," he said.

With two swings against Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday, Benintendi doubled his home run total from 225 at-bats last season. He led off the third inning with an inside-the-park home run and capped his 3-for-3 game with a home run over the right-field fence in the sixth to help the Razorbacks to a 14-0 victory.

Four of Benintendi's home runs have come in SEC games. His only home run last season was against Eastern Illinois. He's averaging a home run every 10.6 at-bats this season.

"I'm not a home run hitter," he said. "I don't really pay attention to that. I don't think that will be my game later on, but I'll take it right now."

Van Horn said he expected Benintendi to hit more home runs this season but couldn't have predicted he'd already be the first Razorbacks player to hit 10 or more since Kyle Robinson had 10 in 2011.

"Andrew's got a lot of leverage in his swing," Van Horn said. "When he gets the barrel to the ball, it jumps. There are a lot of guys in the country that are bigger and stronger, but he's a really good baseball player and he's a tough out."

Part of Benintendi's power surge can be attributed to a livelier baseball being used this season.

The NCAA reported in early March home runs were up 40 percent -- from 0.33 per game to 0.47 -- compared to last season, but Benintendi already has increased his total by 1,000 percent with 21 regular-season games left.

What's had a bigger impact on his home run total was lifting weights last summer rather than playing baseball when he was sidelined for several weeks because of a strained right quadriceps muscle. Benintendi, 5-10, said he added about 15 pounds to get his weight to 180.

"When he came back this fall, the dude had pipes," Arkansas senior outfielder Joe Serrano said, referring to Bienintendi's biceps. "It was unreal. He looked like he went from a little boy to a big ol' man.

"He's definitely got a beach bod now, and he's swinging well and with more confidence."

Benintendi said he is a smarter hitter and has made the adjustment from high school to college pitchers, who often throw off-speed pitches in fastball counts.

"I'm starting to trust my hands," he said. "If I'm sitting off-speed, I can still hit the fastball."

Benintendi hit .276 last season after being the American Coaches Association National Player of the Year at Cincinnati Madeira High School, where he hit .564 as a senior. He was a 31st-round pick by his hometown Reds but likely would have gone in the top 10 rounds if he hadn't told scouts he would attend Arkansas unless offered signing bonus money in the first- or second-round range.

"As a freshman he had a a roller-coaster season," Van Horn said. "He'd never failed before, but as a freshman you're going to fail sometimes, I don't care how good you are."

Benintendi said he took last season as a learning experience and remained confident. He didn't expect to have so many home runs but said he's not surprised he's hitting well and driving in runs.

"I think I knew I had it in me," Benintendi said. "It's just a matter of going out there and doing it."

Sports on 04/10/2015

Print Headline: Beefed-up Benintendi gives Hogs more bang

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