Baseball Cats – Pro and Amateur – Posting Impressive Summer Numbers
Gary Henderson said it, over and over, when he was asked what made this year’s UK baseball team different from last year’s.
Players, he said. More talent.
He was right, of course, and the numbers proved it. Kentucky had one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, much better starting pitching and perhaps the best bullpen in school history, which led to the most impressive number of all: #1. Twice, the Wildcats played their way to the top of at least one college baseball poll. They also rang up a school-record 45 wins, thanks in part to a 22-game winning streak to open the season, and 18 Southeastern Conference victories, second-most in UK history.
As is the case in NCAA baseball, a lot of talented juniors packed up and left for the minors, where they’ve already shown why various Major League Baseball teams decided to draft them.
Outfielder Brian Adams, whose struggles at the plate in the fall and early spring reduced him to becoming one of the most potentially talented pinch runners in the country, finally found his stroke late in the year and impressed the San Diego Padres enough that they made him an eighth-round draft choice. He was the first UK player taken in the amateur draft, even though he saw the least amount of action.
Adams made an immediate impact – literally. In his first at-bat for the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, he hit a home run, part of an incredible career-opening performance: 4-for-5 with a double, two homers and five RBIs.
Catcher Luke Maile, also taken in the eighth round (Tampa Bay Rays), is playing in the New York –Penn league, where on Saturday he went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
Lefthanded pitcher Taylor Rogers, drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 11th round, made a strong rookie league first impression, going five shutout innings, giving up just four hits and striking out seven in his professional debut for Elizabethton.
As usual, most of the Wildcats who will be returning in the fall, as well as several incoming freshmen, are playing collegiate summer league ball. Kentucky has eight in the Cape Cod League, the top summer circuit for college players. UK tied LSU with the largest number of players on the Cape this year.
Lefthanded starting pitcher Corey Littrell, who was named All-SEC after a 9-2 season for the Wildcats, is pitching on the Cape. In two starts, Littrell has a 3.24 ERA in 8.1 innings (he’s being managed on a pitch count), striking out 14 and allowing only five hits and five walks.
Junior lefthander Jerad Grundy, who was drafted in the 26th round by the Twins, chose not to sign (yet) and is playing on the Cape, where he recently threw five shutout innings of one-hit baseball, striking out four.
UK’s SEC Freshman of the Year, centerfielder Austin Cousino, is playing for the USA Collegiate National team and showing the same kind of offensive pop that he did in his rookie season at Kentucky. Cousino made his summer debut Monday night, wearing the No. 1 USA jersey, starting in left field and batting second in the order. The Dublin, Ohio, native went 2-for-4 with two doubles, three runs, one walk, three RBIs and a steal.
Sophomore right-hander Trevor Gott, UK’s ace out of the bullpen, dominated on the Cape last year and might do it again this summer. Gott was named the Russell Ford CCBL Reliever of the Year Award in 2011 for his league-best 13 saves, and he’s at it again.
Gott has appeared in five games in relief for Orleans this summer, recording four saves. In six innings, he’s allowed only one hit and one walk, striking out eight. In one particularly dominant performance, the former Tates Creek Commodore threw nine pitches and struck out the side in the ninth for his second save of the summer.
Wildcat 2nd baseman J.T. Riddle broke out of a slump with his Cape Cod League team Saturday by going 4-for-5 with a triple and an RBI, part of a 7-for-12 streak for the Frankfort native.
Prior to Sunday’s 0-for-4 effort, light-hitting shortstop Matt Reida was tearing it up for his Harwich team in the Cape Cod league, batting .342.
Jeff Boehm, a two-way player for the Wildcats as a freshman, is playing in the Perfect Game Collegiate League and he likewise is off to a strong start through nine games. The Lansing, Ill., native has a .353 average with three doubles, one homer and eight RBIs. Boehm, who saw time as an outfielder and pitcher for Kentucky, also will pitch this summer.
One of UK’s bigger questions next season will be, Who will replace All-SEC 3rd baseman Thomas McCarthy? Paul McConkey might be the answer. The lefthanded hitter has been tearing up the New England Collegiate Baseball League, batting .410 with 10 runs, four doubles, one homer and 10 RBIs. The Knoxville native is in his second summer in the NECBL, where he ranks third in hitting, third in on-base percentage (.489) and has committed just one error at third.
There are more numbers – heck, it’s baseball, where stats never end. And Kentucky isn’t the only team with talented players posting impressive figures all over the country. But when you boil them down, they say the Wildcats just might be looking at another fun season next year.
Dick Gabriel is in his 23rd season with the UK TV and Radio Networks, and can be heard on the Big Blue Insider Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m. ET on 630 WLAP-AM and wlap.com.