Blue Jays' Pentecost wins Johnny Bench Award
First-round Draft pick named top collegiate catcher; hit .422 with 61 RBIs last year
MINNEAPOLIS -- Blue Jays first-round pick Max Pentecost was on his way from the Gulf Coast League in Florida to Vancouver in the Northwest League, so it made sense for him to stop in Minneapolis to stop by the MLB.com stage at the T-Mobile All-Star FanFest on Monday to talk about winning this year's Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top collegiate catcher.
Pentecost, taken No. 11 overall by the Blue Jays, is the fourth-highest pick to win the Johnny Bench Award, following Buster Posey (fifth overall pick), Jeff Clement (third overall pick) and Mike Zunino (third overall pick). He beat out finalists Will Allen of Mississippi and fellow first-round pick Kyle Schwarber of Indiana to add his name to that very prestigious list. Over the 15 years of the award, 11 catchers who were at least finalists are now in the big leagues.
"It just goes to show, the people who have won it in the past had a great work ethic," Pentecost said on Monday. "They knew what their goals were and they set their standards to achieve that. That's my goal, to get where they are and maybe one day play in an All-Star Game."
"The names on there are some great names, they jump out at you," said Bob Hanson, president and CEO of the greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, which presents the award annually in conjunction with the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. "Eleven guys we have that are playing in the Majors right now. We had a young man in the Futures Game yesterday, Kevin Plawecki. Kurt Suzuki, coming back to Minnesota here, nine years ago he won this award and now to make the All-Star Team is really special for me."
Pentecost hit .422/.482/.627 with nine homers and 61 RBIs while leading Kennesaw State to Super Regional play this spring and was considered to be the best all-around catching prospect in this year's Draft class. Being known as more than just a one-dimensional backstop is clearly important to him.
"As a catcher, you have to really separate the defensive and offensive sides of the game," Pentecost said. "If you have a bad at-bat, you can't let it affect your defense, or the other way around. I've always thought of myself as a catcher first; whatever happens offensively, that's just a bonus. My job is to lead as a catcher. Especially on the defensive side, everybody is looking at you on the field. You see everything that happens. You really have to be a leader and keep your team in the game."
While it might seem that Pentecost is a fair distance away from joining the big leaguers on the award list, it wouldn't surprise many if he was able to move through the Blue Jays system quickly. The first step will be conquering the Northwest League after playing in six Gulf Coast League games and hitting .364 over his first 22 professional at-bats.
"It's been different," Pentecost said. "The quality of pitching is the biggest thing. There are some things to get used to, having a real mental approach to the game, just relax. I'm confident in myself and I think I'm going to do just fine."
Two things Pentecost knows he'll have to adjust to are calling his own game -- at Kennesaw State, that was the pitching coach's responsibility -- and the daily grind of a professional schedule.
"I'm looking forward to playing every day," Pentecost said. "It's going to be a different experience than in college, when you play three days on the weekend and one midweek. You'd have three days off. I'm looking forward to getting in the rhythm of things and going from there.
"I think this first year is a good learning experiment, looking for ways to keep your body healthy enough, something that will keep you in the game longer and where you can play every day."
Pentecost wasn't the only player to receive accolades from the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Trea Turner, the North Carolina State standout taken No. 13 overall by the San Diego Padres, was named the Brooks Wallace Award winner as the nation's top shortstop. Kentucky's A.J. Reed, a second-round pick of the Astros, won both the Dick Howser Trophy for the nation's top collegiate player as well as the John Olerud Award as college baseball's top two-way player, though he's only a first baseman now as a pro. Phillies first-rounder Aaron Nola, out of LSU, took home the Pitcher of the Year Award.