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John Van Benschoten

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John Wesley Van Benschoten

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[edit] Biographical Information

John Van Benschoten was the top power hitter in college baseball but was converted to pitching when he became a pro. He led NCAA Division I baseball in home runs in the 2001 season before he was drafted. Arm injuries plagued him, making him miss almost the entire 2005-06 seasons.

[edit] 2000-2001: College star

Van Benschoten hit .356/?/.644 as a college sophomore at Kent State University. The next year, he had a huge year, batting .440 and slugging .982. He was 7th in NCAA Division I in batting average, led with 31 homers (six more than anyone else), was tied for 4th with 84 RBI, tied Chris Burke for the total bases lead (221), outslugged anyone else by 64 points and set Mid-American Conference records in home runs, hits (99), RBI, walks (55) and total bases. He tied for the Conference lead with six triples, lost the batting title by 4 points to Mitch Maier and stole 23 bases. He made the All-Conference team at first base and was the Conference Player of the Year. Additionally, he tied for the Conference lead with 8 saves, going 2-2 with a 2.77 ERA and 63 K in 49 innings on the mound, walking 26. He was named the best first baseman in all of college baseball by Baseball America, which called him the "country's top power hitter." All sources picking All-American teams named him to their squads as one of the top hitters in the country. The Pittsburgh Pirates took him with the 8th pick of the 2001 amateur draft - then stunned the baseball world by announcing they would use him as a pitcher, showing the brilliant talent judgment that has had them in the midst of a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons through 2006. The club had made a similar transition with a #1 pick several years earlier, with Clint Johnston, and that had proven to be a failure. The third position player drafted (after Joe Mauer and Mark Teixeira), John was signed by scout Duane Gustavson for a $2.4 million bonus.

[edit] 2001-2004: In the minors

John debuted with the Williamsport Crosscutters, going 0-2 with a 3.51 ERA and being a league-average pitcher, as one could project based on his college performance. Not allowed regular playing time at the plate, as is needed by most batters, Van Benschoten batted .227/.302/.293 in occasional turns at DH, allowing Pittsburgh to claim that they made the right decision in making him a pitcher. Baseball America named him the top prospect in the New York-Penn League that year.

In 2002, Van Benschoten did a fine job with the Hickory Crawdads, going 11-4 with a 2.80 ERA and 145 K in 148 innings while allowing a .218 average. It was one of the brighter marks on a good staff that included Chris Young and Ian Snell. Baseball America named him the top pitching prospect in the South Atlantic League though he just missed the top 10 in ERA and led the league in nothing. They also rated him the #10 prospect among right-handed pitchers in the minors, the #2 prospect in the SAL after Gavin Floyd and the top Pirates prospect.

In 2003, John went 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA in nine starts for the Lynchburg Hillcats, whiffing 49 in 49 innings and allowing a .191 average. Moving up to AA, he had a 7-6, 3.69 line with the Altoona Curve. He pitched a scoreless second inning for the USA in the 2003 Futures Game and Baseball America again named him the #10 right-handed starting pitcher prospect. They also rated him the #4 prospect in the Carolina League and #10 in the Eastern League and the top Pirates prospect.

John struggled in 2004, going 4-11 with a 4.72 ERA for the Nashville Sounds and 1-3, 6.91 in six games for the 2004 Pirates.

[edit] 2005-2006: Injuries

James Andrews did extensive right shoulder surgery on Van Benschoten in January of 2005, including labrum repair, rotator cuff debridement and thermal shrinkage and he had surgery on his left shoulder that summer. He did not pitch at all that year. In 2006, John had shoulder surgery again on the left side. He finally was back on the mound on August 8, throwing no-hit ball for 5 2/3 for the GCL Pirates before giving up two walks and a homer to take the loss. He allowed two runs in five in one start for the Altoona Curve, a win. He then went up to the Indianapolis Indians and was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in three starts.

[edit] 2007: Comeback

Van Benschoten began 2007 on a strong note, going 6-4 with a 2.73 ERA for the Indianapolis Indians. Having allowed 2 earned runs in his prior 24 1/3 IP, he was called up by the Pirates in mid-June to replace Shawn Chacon in the rotation. He was 4th in the International League in ERA, trailing Kevin Slowey, Homer Bailey and Andy Sonnanstine, all of whom had just been recently promoted to the majors. Right behind Van Benschoten was another former Pirates first-rounder making a comeback, Bryan Bullington. After going 0-5 with a 9.76 ERA in 7 starts for the 2007 Pirates and attempts to adjust his mechanics, Van Benschoten was returned to AAA. Jonah Bayliss took his spot on the Pirates roster. He returned to the Pirates in September. Overall, he was 10-7 with a 2.56 ERA in 19 starts for Indianapolis and 0-7 with a 10.15 ERA with Pittsburgh.

[edit] 2008: Last Chance?

Van Benschoten started 2008 with Indianapolis and went 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA, allowing just 12 hits in 24 innings. When Matt Morris was released, Van Benschoten took his roster spot with the Pirates and moved to the bullpen while Phil Dumatrait joined the rotation. Van Benschoten was ineffective with the 2008 Pirates, going 0-2 with a 9.39 ERA in four games, and was sent back down to the Indians. He was recalled one more time. He finished 2008 with a 1-3, 10.48 ERA for the Pirates, allowing 37 hits and 20 walks in 22 1/3 IP. That gave him a 2-13, 9.20 record in the majors for his career. With the 2008 Indianapolis Indians, he was 7-4 with a 3.92 ERA, fading later in the season.

His 8.96 ERA was the highest in MLB history for a pitcher with at least 17 starts.

Van Benschoten was let go by Pittsburgh in November. He signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox for 2009. He went 2-8, 6.35 with the Charlotte Knights, then spent 2010 in the New York Yankees organization. Bothered by injuries, he pitched only 50 2/3 innings spread among four different teams, but did relatively well, ending the year with a cumulative record of 7-2, 3.02. Things did not go so well in 2011, however, as he was hit very hard in 5 starts for the Tucson Padres, going 1-4, 7.52, and giving up 37 hits in 26 1/3 innings.

[edit] Miscellany

Van Benschoten holds the record for most innings pitched in a career in which the number of earned runs he gave up was greater than the number of innings he pitched. He has pitched 90 innings, allowing 92 earned runs.

Sources include 2001-2005 Baseball Almanacs, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, MLB.com, Minorleaguebaseball.com

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