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SEC Baseball Team Previews: Kentucky Wildcats

SEC Baseball Team Previews: Kentucky Wildcats

The Kentucky Wildcats had a disappointing season a year ago but return most of that team this season. They’ll need some younger guys to step up as well as fill in a rotation that was abysmal last season outside of current MLB player Zack Thompson.

2019 Record: 26-29 (7-23)

2019 Postseason: None

Perfect Game Recruiting Class: 15th

2020 Prediction: 7th in the East

2019 Season

The 2019 season was a long rocky road for Kentucky. There were 13 players were lost to pro ball leaving the roster largely depleted and young. They returned just one everyday starter and limped their way to a 26-29 record.

Kentucky did well enough in the out of conference schedule. They had impressive wins against Big Ten powerhouses Indiana and Michigan. The early season sweep to the hands of Texas Tech is something they’ll want to avoid in the 2020 season.

2020 Season

Notable Non-Conference Games

February 14-16: @ TCU 34-28, 59 RPI

March 17: @ Indiana 37-23, 36 RPI

April 7, April 28: No.1 Louisville 51-18, 9 RPI

May 5: Wright State 42-17, 87 RPI

Kentucky opens up the year with a bang, traveling to Fort Worth against what should be a decent TCU team. The Horned Frogs lost a lot of talent from last year’s playoff team which went 2-2 in the Fayetteville Regional. They do bring in a top 15 recruiting class and have some young talent.

SEC Baseball Team Previews: Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky was able to beat NCAA Runner Up Michigan in the midweek a year ago. (Photo by aseaofblue.com).

The Hoosiers won the Big Ten a year ago and went 1-2 in the Louisville Regional. Head Coach Jeff Mercer was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in his first year as head coach. D1Baseball has Indiana projected to finish fourth in the Big Ten. The road game will be a good challenge for the Wildcats.

As expected the home and away rivalry matchup with Louisville is going to be circled for Kentucky. The preseason No.1 team will be sure to draw a big crowd for Big Blue Nation. Kentucky was outscored 29-6 in two games with the Cardinals last season.

Wright State is a late-season midweek right in the heat of SEC play. The Raiders regularly win around 40 games per year and are not an opponent to be taken lightly. They just missed an NCAA Tournament bid after failing to win the Horizon League Tournament.

SEC West Opponents

March 27-29: @ No.10 Mississippi State

April 3-5: Alabama

April 9-11: No.11 LSU

April 16-18: @ No.8 Auburn

Not Playing: No.7 Arkansas, No.20 Texas A&M, No.25 Ole Miss

No SEC West draw will be easy and the Wildcats are going to have to weather the storm as they drew three of the nations top 11 teams. They’ll have two very tough series on the road against Mississippi State and Auburn. Avoiding sweeps in both of those will be important.

The series at home against Alabama is an opportunity for Kentucky to make up some ground against West opponents. The Crimson Tide will be much improved but so will Kentucky. Consecutive series against LSU and Auburn is going to test the resiliency of Nick Mingione’s ball club.

2020 Roster

Potential Starters

RHP Jimmy Ramsey: 4-6, 7.26 ERA

LHP Mason Hazelwood: 2-3, 3.92 ERA

LHP Dillon Marsh: 3-3, 6.43 ERA

RHP Cole Stupp: Freshman

RHP Zack Lee: Freshman

Kentucky is going to have a tall task of replacing dominant Friday night ace Zack Thompson. The No.19 overall pick gave Kentucky 14 starts of 2.40 ERA baseball and recorded a 6-1 record in 2019.

There is no clear standout candidate for the Friday night position. Junior lefty Mason Hazelwood returns the best numbers from a year ago with nine starts in 13 appearances. Ramsey and Marsh will also be fighting for weekend rotation spots after an up and down year in 2019.

Cole Stupp and Zack Lee are likely to content for a weekend role at some point. Stupp is a righty that throws four different pitches but struggles at time with his command. Lee is a harder throwing righty with a solid slider. Look for one of these guys to work their way into a weekend spot.

Offensive Weapons
SEC Baseball Team Previews: Kentucky Wildcats
Coltyn Kessler led the Wildcats in batting average in 2019. (Photo by ukathletics.com).

T.J. Collett returns to the rawest power to the Wildcat lineup. The senior 1B/DH leads the returning players from a year ago with 10 home runs, 40 RBIs and a .494 slugging percentage. He’ll hope to be more disciplined at the plate after falling victim to the strikeout 50 times last year.

Catcher Coltyn Kessler is another solid bat that will be in the heart of the lineup. He hit .297 last year but batted over .300 in SEC play. He’s an adequate arm behind the plate to keep runners honest and is expected to be improved with his power this season.

JUCO transfer Oraj Anu is a switch-hitting outfielder who is as versatile as they come. He is one of the faster, more athletic players for Kentucky and brings solid power from both sides of the plate. Along with Collett, he’ll need to work on discipline at the plate as he drew just one walk in the Cape League.

Outlook

There’s a lot to build on from a season ago. The youth and inexperience that plagued them a season ago should pay dividends this season as they have most of their roster with SEC experience now.

They’ll have plenty of offensive prowess to put up big numbers this year. The biggest question marks will come in the rotation and be reliant on whether or not some guys can step up and fill those roles. With a solid one-two punch on a Friday and Saturday night, Kentucky can wear down opposing pitching enough to make every Sunday a rubber match.

 

 

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