Derek Bender thankful to play at Coastal Carolina

Derek Bender grew up dreaming of playing at Coastal Carolina. He vividly recalls watching the Chanticleers’ tremendous run through the NCAA Tournament to capture the program’s first national championship in 2016. That moment sparked Bender’s desire to play at Coastal Carolina.

Bender has lived out his dream over the last three years. He’s a junior at Coastal Carolina and has developed into one of college baseball’s top hitters. After playing sparingly his freshman year, making 39 plate appearances, Bender was one of the top hitters in college baseball last year, posting a .341 average and 19 home runs.

This spring, Bender is one of the key pieces in Coastal Carolina’s lineup. External expectations also are high for Bender, who scouts consider a potential early-round pick in July’s MLB draft. Despite the attention, Bender has kept a team-first mindset, hoping to lead the Chanticleers deep into the postseason.

“It’s a dream come true,” Bender said. “I was a little 12-year-old boy watching those guys in 2016 winning a national championship. I swear that day I was going to wear teal and bronze, and hopefully win a national championship. Even having these conversations, talking with scouts, is so surreal. I’m so blessed for the opportunities.”

As a sophomore, Bender posted a .341 average with 13 doubles, 19 home runs and 83 RBIs in 252 at-bats in 2023. He took his game to another level in the Cape Cod League, the premier wood-bat summer league. He batted .374 with seven doubles, four home runs, 21 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 115 at-bats.

Last year’s success motivated Bender during the offseason to hone in on his weaknesses and take his strengths to another level. He focused on improving his bat speed and timing against fastballs, especially premium velocity.

Bender is a 6-foot-1, 210-pound right-handed hitting catcher/first baseman known for his ability to hit for power. He uses a simple swing and overall strength to make hard contact and drive the ball into the gaps, especially to the pull side. He punishes off-speed pitches in the strike zone.

This season, Bender wants to limit his swings and misses out of the zone and show a better hitting ability against premium pitching.

“Ultimately, I want to have better timing on fastballs and attack the areas that I didn’t really hit as well last year,” Bender said.

It’s no secret Bender is a talented hitter who does damage when he connects. But scouts are split on his long-term defensive position. Due to Coastal Carolina’s catching depth, Bender has mostly served as the team’s designated hitter, occasionally seeing time at first base and catcher.

Bender believes he can remain behind the plate long-term if given the opportunity. He has respectable arm strength and shows potential as a catcher. He also shows an ability to be a respectable defensive first baseman.

Bender is content playing any position asked of him. But he hopes to have the chance to prove himself as a catcher in pro ball.

“I honestly think I am a really, really good defensive catcher,” he said. “I just haven’t gotten the reps in college. But I have a skill set where I can make the pitcher better and get impromptu outs on the defense side.

“I can play defense, handle a pitching staff, call a pretty damn good game. I think it’s a very underrated skill and goes overlooked because I don’t have the reps because of the really good catchers we’ve had here.”

Coastal Carolina enters this season with high expectations. The Chanticleers are the defending Sun Belt Conference champions and have won 16 straight conference series. This is coach Gary Gilmore’s final season as the program’s head coach, a position he’s held since 1996.

The Chanticleers have made two consecutive NCAA Tournaments, falling in the regional final both times. They haven’t won a regional since 2016, when they won the program’s first national title.

This season, Bender hopes the Chanticleers can advance deep in the tournament and make their mark on the program.

“We are bringing back a lot of guys from last year’s team, but we aren’t going to be last year’s team,” Bender said. “It’s a clean slate for us. For us to reach our fullest potential, we all have to be new people. That doesn’t mean who we are as players but our mindset. We are trying to have a new identity and sculpt that into a championship team.”

Read more in-depth stories on top 2024 MLB draft prospects at Baseball Prospect Journal.

Video of Derek Bender.

Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for nine years. He has interviewed 518 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today,, The Arizona Republic and The Dallas Morning News, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.

Dan Zielinski III
Dan Zielinski III
Dan Zielinski III is the creator of the Baseball Prospect Journal and has covered the MLB draft since 2015. His draft work originally appeared on, a sports website he started in December 2011. He also covered the Milwaukee Brewers as a member of the credentialed media for four years. Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.

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