Kentucky will begin the 2018 season where it left off a year ago, as a top-10 team with plenty of buzz around the program. Baseball America, the longstanding staple of collegiate and prep baseball, ranked the Wildcats No. 8 in its preseason poll released on Tuesday.
The No. 8 ranking is the highest ever for Kentucky in Baseball America’s preseason top 25 poll. The Cats also are ranked No. 8 in preseason polls by Collegiate Baseball, D1 Baseball and Perfect Game/Rawlings. The USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll will be released at a later date.
The Cats are coming off a 43-win season that saw the program advance to its first-ever NCAA Tournament super regional and finish ranked in the top 10. All-America outfielder Tristan Pompey, second-team All-Southeastern Conference catcher Troy Squires, catcher/first baseman Kole Cottam and infielder Luke Becker return to what was a potent lineup last season and will be joined by one of the nation’s top junior-college recruiting classes.
Much of the early buzz centers around the Cats’ pitching, which should be among the nation’s elite. Friday night starter and 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle heads a staff that includes starter Justin Lewis, left-hander Zack Thompson, closer Chris Machamer and hard-throwing junior-college transfer Zach Haake. All five of those players have been recognized as potential top Major League Baseball Draft prospects.
The Cats open their season at Wofford on Feb. 16 and again face one of the nation’s most difficult schedules with highly regarded non-conference foes Houston, Indiana, Louisville and Texas Tech joining the typical rigors of SEC play.
Kentucky at Wofford
When: 5 p.m. Feb. 16
Xavier at Kentucky
When: 4 p.m. Feb. 21