#33 Kentucky Baseball 2014 Preview

Kentucky Wildcats

Overall Rank: #33
Conference Rank: #8 SEC
#33 Kentucky Baseball 2014 Preview
Kentucky Team Page


After being ranked 8th to start last season, the Kentucky baseball team failed to live up to the high expectations and stumbled to a 30-25 record and missed the NCAA Tournament.  The Wildcats were eliminated in the first round of the SEC Tournament, falling to Ole Miss 4-1.  Four players off of last season’s team were drafted last June and signed pro contracts, but there is a lot of talent back for Kentucky.  The Wildcats will look to turn talent into success this season.

2013: 30-25, 11-19
2013 Postseason: None
Coach: Gary Henderson

Field Players:
Kentucky’s lineup returns almost fully intact from last season.  A.J. Reed and Austin Cousino will anchor the lineup from the middle of the order.  Reed hit .280 last year and led the team in both home runs and RBI’s, with 13 and 52, respectively.  He will also be the Wildcat’s number one starter on the mound.  Cousino hit .249 and added six home runs, 27 RBI’s, and a team-high 14 stolen bases.  Max Kuhn will be back to join Reed in the infield after hitting .242 with five home runs and 29 RBI’s.  Kuhn also led the Wildcats in walks with 37.  Joining the trio will be Kyle Barrett, who earned a starting spot in the outfield along side Cousino last season.  He hit a team-high .349.  Micheal Thomas is returns at catcher and provides a solid backstop.  Thomas only committed one error last year and finished with a .997 fielding percentage.  He also hit .239 with three home runs and 21 RBI’s.   Shortstop Matt Reida will be back for his fourth year as a starter after hitting .242 in 2013.  Paul McConkey and Thomas Bernal will both be back in the infield, looking for more playing time.  McConkey hit .232 in 35 games, while Bernal hit .321 in 18 games before missing the rest of the season with an injury.  Cathcer Greg Fettes and outfielder Lucas Witt also return after starting 19 and 21 games, respectively, last year.  Sophomores Zach Storm and Dorain Hairston and junior Jeff Boehm will add depth and freshmen Connor Heady and JaVon Shelby will look to for playing time in their first seasons.  

The pitching staff was hit hard by the draft, but the cupboard isn’t bare.  Chandler Shepard will return to the bullpen after putting together an impressive 2013 season.  Shepard was 5-0 with a 2.77 ERA in 26 appearances last year.  He will be joined by returning starters A.J. Reed and Kyle Cody.  Reed went just 2 -8 last year with a 4.04 ERA in 14 starts, but did keep his walk totals down, allowing only 15.  Cody started ten games and went 3-3 with a 4.84 ERA.  Sophomores Ryne Combs, Zach Strecker, and Dylan Dwyer are also back in the bullpen.  Combs posted a 2.01 ERA in just over 22 innings, while Strecker had a 2.35 ERA in just over 15 innings.  Dwyer was 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in just over 16 innings.  All three should feature prominent roles out of the bullpen.  Kentucky will also bring in a pair of highly touted pitching recruits in Robert Ziegler and Zack Brown.  Ziegler is the Wildcat’s top recruit, while Brown was drafted by the Cubs but didn’t sign in June.  Junior college transfers Spencer Jack and Andrew Nelson could also see time on the mound.  

Who to Watch:
Thomas Bernal will be key to the Wildcats success this year.  Bernal was hitting .321 and had driven in five runs in his first 28 at bats before he went down with a season ending injury.  He also had a .472 on base percentage at the time of the injury.  Kentucky was 21-6 before Bernal got hurt, but they stumbled to a 10-19 record afterwards. Bernal will look to stay healthy this year and help Kentucky continue to win.

Final Projection:
Kentucky will try and bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season.  They will lose some talent, but there is still plenty left on the roster.  The Wildcats have a tough opening schedule, as they start with Virginia and UNC Wilmington in back to back days.  They also will face Indiana, who made it to the College World Series last year, in early March.  Kentucky has the lineup to win, but they will need some pitchers to step up.  If some do, Kentucky should find themselves in an NCAA Regional at the end of the year.  

Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament

Returning Leaders:
At Bats: A.J. Reed, IF/P, 214
Hits: A.J. Reed, IF, 60
Home Runs: A.J. Reed, IF/P, 13
RBIs: A.J. Reed, IF/P, 53
Runs: Austin Cousino, OF, 42
Stolen Bases: Austin Cousino, OF, 14

Wins: Chandler Shepard, P, 5
Innings Pitched: A.J. Reed, P, 82.1
Strikeouts: A.J. Reed, P, 52
Saves: None


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