Wes Benjamin of St. Charles might have been pitching these days in Charleston, S.C., or one of the other minor league outposts of the New York Yankees, but he’s happy he decided to pitch in Lawrence, Kan., instead.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “[It’s] one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life.”
Benjamin was drafted by the Yankees in the 48th round of the 2011 MLB amateur draft, but decided to enroll at the University of Kansas after graduating from St. Charles East rather than sign a minor league contract.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be drafted high enough to take me away from college,” he said. “It’s been fun, certainly, to say I’ve been a part of [the Yankees] organization in some way.”
While Benjamin only had to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to one major league team, he had a lot of scholarship offers from major NCAA Division I college programs to mull.
“It was a long process,” he said. “Luckily, I had the opportunity of visiting a lot of different places.”
He chose Kansas over the likes of Michigan, Stanford and Wake Forest.
“I thought the campus at Kansas was beautiful,” Benjamin said. “As soon as I got to meet the coaches and players, it all tied in together.”
Benjamin liked the philosophy of the Kansas program, particularly that of pitching coach Ryan Graves, a former All-Big 12 pitcher at Oklahoma State.
“I just knew it would be a good fit for me,” he said.
As a freshman with the Jayhawks last year, Benjamin was named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer team after compiling a 5-7 record with a 3.54 ERA in 15 starts.
That was the lowest ERA by a Kansas freshman in 20 years.
So far this season, the left-hander has a 4-5 record in 12 starts. He’s given up 80 hits in 73 innings pitched. At 4.19, his ERA is up a bit from last season, but he attributes that primarily to a couple of rough early-season outings.
“The last couple of games I’ve been a little sharper and gone deeper into games,” he said.
The Jayhawks are 31-18 overall and 12-9 in Big 12 play. They’ve won six in a row after being swept by West Virginia in a three-game league series at Morgantown.
“I think we’ve got a great team this year,” Benjamin said. “Aside from [the West Virginia series], we were in the running for first place. It’s one of the best teams I’ve been on.”
Benjamin was on some good teams at St. Charles East. As a junior, he was 13-2 with a 1.26 ERA and was named first team all-state by the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association.
Benjamin said the quality of the hitters up and down the lineup is one of the ways the college game varies from high school baseball.
“In high school, you could get away with a lot more,” he said. “There’s a big difference in terms of the level of talent of the hitters. … You have to make a lot less mistakes.”
Benjamin said college hitters usually capitalize on mistakes.
“One pitch could decide a game,” he said. “Every pitch counts. Every pitch matters.”
Benjamin is majoring in physical therapy.
“I’ve picked a major that’s pretty tough,” he said. “Classes have been going well. I think the only downside is the half-mile hike uphill to get to classes.”
A career in physical therapy appeals to Benjamin, but so does one as a professional baseball player. He could be drafted by another major league team following his junior season at Kansas.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully having that happen again next year,” Benjamin said.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To suggest a local college athlete to be featured in an upcoming column, email him at email@example.com.