Kentucky’s baseball team, ranked 25th in Baseball America’s preseason poll, is gearing up to kick off its season next weekend when it travels to Spartanburg, S.C., for matchups against Wofford, George Mason and Dayton.
For Coach Gary Henderson’s squad, pitching will be the key to his team’s success.
“It’s the most experienced and the most qualified starting rotation that we have ever had,” Henderson said Monday at the team’s media day. “We’re one of the few places in the country that had two drafted juniors come back as seniors. It says a lot about the program when guys want to come back and play their senior season for you.”
Kyle Cody and Dustin Beggs were drafted in the second and 32nd rounds, respectively, last summer. Cody was 4-4 with a 4.91 ERA last season while Beggs finished 7-4 with a 3.65 ERA.
Cody and Beggs are expected to be joined in the starting rotation by Zack Brown, who was 6-6 with a 3.48 ERA last season.
“That puts you in a position to feel like we’ve got a very, very good starting three on the weekends,” Henderson said. “All three of them have grown and matured and improved their ability to pitch. Their individual pitches are better this year for each of them.”
Also returning this season for Kentucky, which finished 30-25 in 2015, is All-Southeastern Conference and preseason All-American JaVon Shelby. The former Tates Creek High School star, who will be switching from second base to third this season, batted .312 with nine home runs and 44 RBI in 2015.
“JaVon gives us a physical presence,” Henderson said. “He will be better this year. His pitch selection will be better, and his pure skill acquisition has gotten better since last year.”
Rounding out a talented group of returners for Kentucky is first baseman Evan White, who batted .318 with 28 RBI last season. He was named to the All-SEC freshman all-defensive teams.
“We probably have the best first baseman in America,” Henderson said of White. “He’s athletic enough that if we needed to get an extra bat in the lineup we could move him to the outfield. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. He’s faster. He is going to be a better player this year.”
Kentucky is hoping to get back into the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season.
“We’ve got a lot of really positive things going on,” Henderson said. “I’m really excited about it. We’ve got a great group of kids. We’ve got a nice mix of experience, some new guys to the program, and some great leadership. I feel really fortunate to be their coach.”
At Spartanburg, S.C.
5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19: vs. Wofford
Noon Saturday, Feb. 20: vs. George Mason
10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 21: vs. Dayton