It’s been since 2017 the last time Kentucky baseball has made the postseason. It was head coach Nick Mingione’s first season and the Wildcats made it all the way to the Louisville Super Regional. Fans are hoping this year they get back on track to the postseason.
2019 Record: 26-29 (7-23)
2020 Record: 11-6
Perfect Game Recruiting Class: 28th
The 2020 season wasn’t going too well before the cancellation. The Wildcats were sitting at 11-6 about to play one of the best teams in the country in Vanderbilt. Kentucky had already been swept twice in the young season, once by TCU and another by UNC-Wilmington.
The Wildcats were expected to finish towards the bottom of the SEC East last season. Still, after an atrocious 2019 season, the shortened 2020 slate left a bad taste in Big Blue Nation’s mouths. But Nick Mingione has high hopes for his 2021 Kentucky team.
A year ago Kentucky had the worst ERA in the SEC and led the conference in errors. Mingione believes they’ve fixed those problems for 2021. “The quality of arms are better, guys that were in our program a year ago have made a jump, but our pitching and defense is dramatically improved. It’s the been the best part of our fall thus far.”
Jimmy Ramsey and Mason Hazelwood were the bulk of the bright spots last year. Ramsey went 2-2 with a 3.26 ERA on Friday nights, with Hazelwood on Saturday’s going 2-1 with a team leading 1.64 ERA. They’re the favorites to return to those roles but Ramsey is rumored to potentially take over closing duties in the bullpen.
Other players vying for the weekend rotation are Dillon Marsh and Alex Degen. Marsh struggled in the Sunday spot to start the season and was switched to midweeks before season’s end. Degen posted a 2.51 ERA in mostly bullpen starts and struggled in his lone Sunday start in the final series of the year.
The Kentucky offense is lethal this season, possibly even the best in the SEC as Nick Mingione believes. He’s got reason to believe that as Kentucky returns nearly all of their weapons from last year.
The heart of the lineup all returns for the Wildcats. There may be none bigger than John Rhodes who erupted in his freshman year. Rhodes led the team with a .426 average and .485 on base percentage. Following him at a .393 average was Austin Schultz who also led the team in RBI’s (20) and homeruns (5).
Kentucky has one of the most veteran experience in the conference. Fifth year seniors Zeke Lewis and T.J. Collett were both off to hot starts in 2020. Lewis was hitting .378 while Collett was tied for the team lead in homeruns with five. MLB prospect Oraj Anu also returns to his spot in the middle of the lineup.
If the problems from last year’s team have truly been resolved, the Wildcats should very much be in the mix for a playoff spot this year. Offensively they look like a nightmare. The front end of the rotation looks solid. They’ve added numerous arms so sure up the back end and bullpen. It’s a tall task to contend with Vanderbilt and Florida in the East but Kentucky could have a shot at a third place finish.
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