It may still be cold and rainy, but baseball is nearing its return to the Bluegrass.

The Kentucky Wildcats will open their 2020 season Friday in Fort Worth, Texas against TCU before returning to Lexington Tuesday for their home opener with Southeast Missouri State.

After losing 13 players in the 2018 MLB Draft, the 2019 Wildcats struggled as several players attempted to get used to the grind that is playing in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky finished the season 26-29 overall and 7-23 in conference play as they missed out on the SEC tournament for the first time since 2011.

In 2020, the team hopes the experience gained from last season leads to a return to Hoover.

Now, here is everything the Big Blue Nation needs to know to get ready for the new Kentucky baseball season.

What’s on the schedule

Kentucky will again play one of the hardest schedules in all of college baseball this season. 

The Cats will open the year on the road against a TCU team that comes into the season as a team that “just missed” securing a spot in the preseason top 25. 

After three games in the Lone Star state, Kentucky will return home for a 14 game home stand against non-conference opponents. The home non-conference state features Appalachian State, Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky and Cincinnati. 

On March 13th, Kentucky will open conference play by traveling to Nashville for a three-game series with the defending national champion Vanderbilt Commodores. The Cats will also travel to Mississippi State, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia. 

In Lexington, the Cats will host conference showdowns with Florida, LSU, Missouri and South Carolina.

While conference play will dominate much of the final three months of the season, Kentucky will also play a handful of non- conference games, including their annual home and home set with Louisville and a quick trip for one game in Bloomington against the Hoosiers. 

The coaching staff

The 2020 Wildcats will be led by Nick Mingione, who’s entering his fourth year as Kentucky’s head coach.

While Mingione returns, his two assistants are new to the program. Will Coggin repalces Roland Fanning as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Coggin returns to the same roles he worked in at Mississippi State from 2016-2017 and is reunited with Mingione, whom he spent time with in Starkville.

Kentucky’s new pitching coach will be Dan Roszel, who replaces Jim Belanger, who left for Florida State. Rozel spent eight seasons at Eastern Carolina’s as the Pirates pitching coach and also had a stint at Florida Gulf Coast, where he coached future MLB all-star Chris Sale.

Who’s gone

The biggest loss from last year’s roster is starting pitcher Zack Thompson. Thompson was the ace of Kentucky’s staff as he pitched to a 2.40 ERA and held batters to a .184 average agasisnt. As a result, the St Louis Cardinals drafted him in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

Kentucky will also be without Ryan Shinn who led the team with 13 home runs in 2019 as he graduated and was drafted in the 34th round of the draft by the New York Mets.

Outside of Thompson and Shinn the Cats lost infeidler Alex Rodriguez, catcher Marshall Gei and outfielder Ryan Johnson to graduation.

The team also had several players such as first basemen Dalton Reed, infielder Rook Ellington and pitchers Cole Ayers and Grant Macciocchi decide to transfer.

Who’s back

The benefit of having a young team a year ago is that several of those faces will return with experience under their belt for 2020 and beyond.

Across the diamond, Kentucky will return nearly all of their offensive starters from last season. This group is headlined by senior first basemen TJ Collett who was named to the SEC preseason first-team. Other key contributors from last year’s lineup, such as Austin Schultz, Breydon Daniel, Coltyn Kessler and Jaren Shelby, will also return as they look to improve on their average run total of 5.8 runs per game.

On the mound, nearly Kentucky’s entire pitching staff will return. While the Cats will be without their ace in Thompson, Mason Hazelwood, Jimmy Ramsey and Dillon Marsh will return to the rotation.

Kentucky’s bullpen remains nearly entirely intact, including the teams’ late-inning trio of Carson Coleman, Cole Daniels and Daniel Harper.

Who’s new

There will be a handful of new faces on the Kentucky Baseball roster in 2020. One of those newcomers is outfielder Oraj Anu who has twice been drafted by the Boston Red Sox but has opted not to sign with the team. Anu comes to Kentucky after spending Wallace-Dothan (Ala.) Community College where he hit a combined .390.

Headlining the group of true freshman is John Rhodes, who in high school played all nine positions on the field at some point in time. Rhodes was named a MaxPreps Second-Team Medium Schools All-American in 2019 after a fantastic senior season in which he hit .560 with 12 home runs and 43 RBI’s.

Other freshmen to keep an eye on include pitchers Jake Tate and Cole Stupp and infielder Jaden Brown. 

Projections

If Kentucky’s going to make it back to Hoover in 20

2020, they’re going to have to prove a lot of people wrong.

The SEC’s coaches project Kentucky to finish last in the SEC East and none voted for them to win the conference. The Game Haus also doesn’t like the Wildcats chances projecting them to finish in the division cellar.

With low expectations, Kentucky can shock a lot of people by crawling themselves out of the SEC East basement. 

Kentucky begins their season Friday at TCU. Big Blue Insider’s Dick Gabriel will be on the call for the UK Sports Network with first pitch set for 7:30 p.m. EST.  

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