#21 Kentucky Baseball 2016 Preview

Kentucky Wildcats
Overall Rank: #21
Conference Rank: #6 SEC
 Kentucky Logo
With a road sweep over Missouri to end the 2015 regular season, Kentucky was making a late push to make the NCAA Tournament after an up and down season. However, a loss to Auburn in the SEC Tournament opener left the Wildcats on the outside looking in. This time around the Wildcats should be more consistent, especially with an experienced pitching staff leading the way.
2015: 30-25, 14-15
2015 Postseason: None
Coach: Gary Henderson
Field Players:
Kentucky will miss Ka’ai Tom and Kyle Barrett, who led the team in batting average with .375 and .354, respectively. However, just about everybody else is back. JaVon Shelby is an All-American candidate who hit .312 with nine homeruns and 44 RBIs last season. Evan White and Dorian Hairston can hit for power too. White totaled 12 doubles and two homeruns last season while Hairston went yard four times. Zach Arnold, Storm Wilson and Riley Mahan were regulars in the starting lineup as well. Arnold is one to watch. He only played in 36 games last year, starting 29, but is a dangerous line drive hitter. More importantly, he is a fine catcher and can play in the outfield some too if Coach Gary Henderson wants his bat in the lineup while giving him a rest behind the plate.
This is where Kentucky starts to become a serious threat in the SEC. Zack Brown is coming off of a great season. He only went 6-6, but posted a 3.48 ERA and two of his three complete games were shutouts. Brown is a big-time MLB draft prospect, and rightfully so, but do not look past Dustin Beggs. Beggs’ ERA was just a bit higher than Brown’s at 3.65 and he struck out a few more batters, while holding opponents’ batting average at just .234. Like Brown, Beggs needs to do a better job of keeping the ball in the park, but unlike Brown, Beggs has great control. Kyle Cody is the often overlooked starter, but the big 6-7 senior has had some quality outings. In 14 appearances, a dozen of which were starts, he compiled a 4.91 ERA.
Who to Watch:
There is a sense that the offense will go as far as Shelby can take them. He is the power hitter and he is the guy who needs to drive in the runs. Runs can be tough to come by in the SEC and when others are getting on base, Shelby will feel the pressure to get that clutch hit. And he is certainly capable of doing that more often than not. Despite hitting for power, Shelby is patient at the plate and will find ways to get on base. He walked 38 times last year and was hit by ten pitches. The key for Kentucky will be filling in the pieces around him. Players like Arnold and Wilson need to get on base so Shelby can drive them in and players like White and Hairston need to be dangerous enough so the opposition cannot pitch around Shelby.
Final Projection:
Kentucky is not challenging themselves too much out of conference. With a veteran team like this, they should be able to be in pretty good shape heading into SEC play. But, of course, that is where things get interesting and difficult. The Wildcats avoid Texas A&M and LSU and Florida comes to Lexington and the schedule appears to be quite favorable, all things considered. The road trips to Vanderbilt and Auburn may not result in many wins, but trips to Athens and Knoxville are a couple series that this team can win. And winning a couple series on the road like that could be the difference between getting back to the NCAA Tournament and another disappointing season.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Evan White, 1B, 217
Hits: Evan White, 1B, 69
Home Runs: JaVon Shelby, IF, 9
RBIs: JaVon Shelby, IF, 44
Runs: JaVon Shelby, IF, 29
Stolen Bases: Storm Wilson, OF, 8
Wins: Dustin Beggs, P, 7
Innings Pitched: Dustin Beggs, P, 93.2
Strikeouts: Dustin Beggs, P, 75
Saves: Logan Salow, P, 3
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#31 Zach Brown