Much like Kentucky Basketball, Nick Mingione and UK Baseball have reloaded. Thanks to a solid recruiting strategy by Nick Mingione, UK is still a contender in 2018. With a handful of talented JUCO transfers and incoming freshman, the Cats have a variety of ways they could fill the shoes of some of the most successful players in UK history. Here is a look at how the Cats will replace the nine players that were drafted in 2017.
The biggest hole UK will have to fill will be at first base. Evan White was the top defensive first baseman in the country as well as a .359 hitter over his three years at UK. There is no team that could immediately fill that offensive hole like UK can. Power-hitting Kole Cottam is expected to move from catcher to first base for his junior season. Cottam proved in the Regional that he can hit for power and spray the ball to all fields. The former catcher will be an anchor in the lineup this season and should equal White’s production at the plate. UK will have a hard time replacing White’s defense at first, though. In his three seasons at UK, White committed only two errors and saved dozens of errant throws from sailing into the stands. T.J Collett is expected to see time at first and at DH as well. Collett may have the most pop of any player in UK’s lineup, but 2018 will prove whether or not he can play first base regularly.
Kole Cottam hits the triple and then shoots a triple. pic.twitter.com/FA6COyfdwT
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) June 5, 2017
Riley Mahan developed into one of the best hitters for UK in 2017 using his bats and Bat Sleeves. Mahan led UK with 15 home runs and 67 RBIs before being taken in the third round of the 2017 Draft by Miami. It will be hard to fill Mahan’s spot in the lineup, but Nick Mingione does have some options. D1 Baseball predicts that Luke Becker will move from third to second to replace Mahan and put Luke Heyer at third. The move makes sense, but UK could also use newcomers, Garrett Hastings and Alex Rodriguez, to take some of the load off of Becker.
One of the positions that UK has very little depth is at the six spot. Connor Heady provided range at shortstop as well as power from the nine-hole in the lineup. Nick Mingione brought in a pair of infield transfers that could help to replace Heady. Former LSU shortstop Trey Dawson transferred to UK after hitting .279 for Chipola Junior College. Dawson was one of the jewels of the 2017 recruiting class. A sneaky player to watch at short could be Rodriquez. Another JUCO transfer, Rodriguez hit .372 with 12 home runs and 25 stolen bases for Northern Oklahoma College in 2017. Joey Bellini was expected to compete for playing time as well, but the defensive specialist transferred out in December.
The two corner outfield positions will have newcomers patrolling the lines. With Tristan Pompey most likely moving to center field, transfers Ryan Johnson and Ben Aklinski could fill in the other two spots. There are a handful of talented freshman outfielders that could see time, but it is safe to assume that JUCO transfers Johnson and Aklinski will see the majority of time in the outfield. Johnson started five games for TCU as a freshman in 2016 after being named an Under Armour All-American in high school. He is extremely talented and will play immediately in 2018.
Of the 11 pitchers that saw a majority time out of the bullpen, only four return. One of the biggest surprises of the 2017 season was the emergence of Logan Salow. Salow struck out 73 in 55 innings while posting a 1.95 ERA as the team’s senior closer. Salow gave the Cats a closer that could be trusted in the ninth inning day in and day out. Along with Salow, UK loses flamethrower Zach Pop. The Dodgers selected Pop in the seventh round last year. Pop made 20 appearances out of the bullpen before missing the latter part of the season due to an arm injury. Salow and Pop anchored the backend of the bullpen and solidified a dominant pitching staff. In 2018, sophomore Chris Machamer will be called upon to close out games. Machamer had arm surgery last fall but has been cleared to pitch this month. The Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year in 2016, Machamer struck out 36 batters in 24 appearances last season.
The only hole to fill in the rotation will be on Saturdays. Zach Logue was a heavy strikeout guy, but he allowed too many flyballs to be dominant in the SEC. UK will miss the experience of Logue, but the Justin Lewis will most likely move up to the second spot in the rotation and sophomore Zack Thompson will take over Logue’s spot in the rotation. For more on the Cats’ pitching staff, read our preview here.
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