Coach Gary Henderson and players JaVon Shelby, Kyle Cody, Evan White, and Zack Brown all spoke to the media last week about the upcoming season. The Cats are ranked 29th in the preseason poll and have several potential first round picks on their roster. This season has more hope that I’ve seen since 2013, and we are looking forward to bringing you more baseball coverage than ever before. So without further ado, here are my takeaways from Media Day.
Kentucky’s Pitching Staff is near the top in the SEC- This is not a small feat. The SEC has the strongest class of pitching in the nation, and three of those top pitchers rock Kentucky Blue. “It is the most experienced and the most qualified starting rotation we’ve had,” Henderson said. Zack Brown, Kyle Cody, and Dustin Beggs made up the weekend rotation last season and will do the same in 2016. Cody and Beggs both turned down pro ball and returned for their senior seasons. Brown is projected as a first round pick this year after a stellar sophomore campaign. The 2015 Friday starter won big games against Florida and Missouri and threw three complete games. He is the bulldog of the staff.
The bullpen is balanced- For Kentucky Baseball fans, the bullpen is always the number one concern. “We have a nice mix of left and right, and experience. We don’t have anybody that comes back that has quite the qualifications that a Trevor Gott would that did that for us for three years. But we’ve got a good group of kids to choose from and have compete for us,” Henderson said. Kentucky brings in four righties and four lefties as key contributors in the bullpen. Logan Salow and Zach Strecker are two familiar names for fans. Look for Zach Logue and Justin Lewis to break out as well.
The infield is much more open in 2016- With Thomas Bernal moving on, JaVon Shelby will move to third base. Shelby has added a lot of muscle and will be a fine third baseman. With Shelby moving from second to third, there is an open race for the middle infield spots. Kentucky has Riley Mahan and Connor Heady returning, and Zeke Lewis and Luke Becker as new additions. Heady is a great defender. but has struggled at the plate in his first two years. According to Henderson, Heady has come a long way. “Connor will be a better player offensively,” Henderson said. “The experience, the strength gains, the added at-bats, all has helped him. He will be a better player.”
The pitching staff has improved their changeup as a whole- Brown has a devasting breaking ball and Cody can fire up his fastball in the high 90s, but both guys mentioned working on their changeup. “Changeup has come a long way and I’m throwing a lot of strikes with it, I’ll go a lot deeper in games with it,” Cody said. The senior believes that his changeup can set him apart from other guys and it aided to his late season success in 2015. Cody also said that his slider has gotten sharper headed into the season.
Evan White will eventually have his jersey retired- Henderson summed up his thoughts on the sophomore quickly. “At first base, we probably have the best first baseman in America. His name is Evan White.” White hit .318 in 52 games as a freshman and was named to the SEC All-Defensive and All-Freshman Teams. He is a special talent on both sides of the ball. “He’s bigger, he is stronger, he is faster and he is going to be a better player this year,” Henderson said.
I like this team- Take it for what you will, but I really like this team. They have a couple of question marks in the outfield and in the bullpen that will need to be worked out in order to be successful. There will be more power in the lineup and the pitching staff is on another level. The weekend guys have the ability to go deep in games and save the bullpen. Mahan and Logue both played summer ball and showed vast improvements that we will see immediately. Kentucky’s first game is Friday against Wofford.