We are a little over a week away from the return of Kentucky Baseball. Nick Mingione spoke to the media today prior to next week’s season opener at TCU. The fourth-year coach broke down this year’s squad and gave us plenty to talk about heading into week one. Here are notes from Tuesday’s media day and what they mean for the team in 2020.
Ben Jordan Will Remain With the Basketball Team for the Remainder of the Season
The biggest story with the baseball team this winter was pitcher Ben Jordan walking-on with the basketball team. Mingione made it clear that Jordan will finish the season on the hardwood before joining the baseball team this spring. “He’s throwing bullpens with us once a week,” Mingione said. “Just to see his body, how changed he is, and to be around a hall of fame coach and coaching staff, it’s made Ben better.”
Why this is important: Jordan will return in (hopefully) early April. He will return as a reliever and give Mingione a talented piece out of the bullpen.
John Rhodes is Going to be a Stud
There have been whispers for months about an incoming freshman with elite speed and power named John Rhodes. The Chattanooga-native did nothing but improve this summer when he was named the MVP of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game amid a season where he finished with a .316 average. Now that he is on campus, Mingione believes that Rhodes will have an immediate impact in 2020. “He might be one of the top two or three fastest guys on our team,” Mingione said. “He’s probably in the top five in power. He has the strongest arm in our infield. So when you break down his tools; the run, the hit, the field, the throw, the power, he really has it all.”
Why this is important: Rhodes might be the most elite signee to make it to campus in the Mingione era. He has an opportunity to develop into a five-tool player over the next few seasons.
This Team Has Serious Speed
Mingione believes this may be the fastest team he has ever coached. Breydon Daniel, Austin Schultz, Jaren Shelby, and Cam Hill all posted double-digit stolen base numbers last season for a team that finished fourth in the SEC in stolen bags.
Why this is important: College baseball is unlike Major League Baseball when it comes to stealing bases. In professional baseball, the stolen base has largely been forgotten. But swiping bags is crucial at the college level. Over the last two seasons, Vanderbilt has stolen 181 bases and they seem to be doing alright. Speed helps on the basepaths, but it will also be important defensively. Kentucky Proud Park has a spacious outfield, so having speed at all three outfield positions is huge.
There Will Be a Big Step Forward This Season
The 2019 season was largely a restart for UK. The Cats had to replace 13 players that signed pro contracts after the 2018 season. The team returned only three players who had substantial experience on offense. UK struggled in SEC play, going 7-23 against conference opponents and 26-29 overall. Mingione continually hit on the point that last season helped to give players a lot of experience. “We tried and we tried and we moved pieces and we kept giving guys opportunities and it just didn’t happen,” Mingione said. “Now that they have the experience, that experience should speed up their learning curve and some things should happen for a lot of those guys.” There is no doubt that last year was frustrating, but Mingione is a firm believer that last season’s struggles will help returning players in 2020. “We’re not repeating ourselves and we’re able to move onto different levels now,” Mingione said.
Why this is important: Last season was a launching point for 2020 and beyond for Mingione’s group. The Cats’ head coach believes that the team can begin to take the next steps as a group because of the experience they gained last season.
We will have more previews leading up to next Friday’s season opener. For the full video of Tuesday’s media day, check it out here.