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  • Preseason: Nick Mingione looks at Kentucky Baseball

    UK Media Relations


    Now about our team. You guys know how big I am with standards and accountability. I sat up right here a year ago and told you we needed to be a half run better offensively, and if we were a half run better defensively, we would do some things that would be special. I'll tell you that we did it offensively. We fell short defensively. So there will be a huge emphasis on our team defense this year.

    Obviously pitching and defense, you know how much I love offense, but it's all about pitching and defense, and when you look at the two teams that played for the national championship last year, Florida and LSU, two teams from our league, they also led in defense.

    As far as pitching goes, guys, I'm in a totally different spot than we were a year ago. I sat up here and we didn't return a weekend start. That is not the case this year. We return 77 percent of our starts. You talk about totally flipping. We returned 66 percent of our innings and 75 percent of our wins from a year ago on the mound are back. So obviously that has got us excited, right?

    As far as defense is concerned, we want to be committed to be an elite defensive team, and we've got to try to commit 16 fewer errors. 16 fewer errors, we have challenged our team to do that.

    Offensively, here's where our roles have flip-flopped. Listen to this: We lost our -- you guys all know this, but we lost our everyday first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, left field, and center field, but we're excited. We are excited. Yeah, so if you had to break those numbers down, it's 69 percent of all of our starts. 61 percent of our at-bats, 59 percent of our runs, 62 percent of our hits, 63 percent of our doubles, 90 percent of our triples, 60 percent of our home runs, 59 percent of our RBIs, and 57 percent of our walks, but I promise we'll still be good offensively.

    We have some really good players. We have placed a huge emphasis on scoring first. Last year we were 31-10 when we scored first, so that will be an emphasis for us this year.

    Let's break through some of our pitchers. First pitcher I want to talk about is Justin Lewis, how big he's been to get us back. He's an 11th-round draft pick. To have him back, he is stronger. You guys know how good his changeup is, but his slider is the best thing that has happened to him. The other day in scrimmage, he threw an 85 mile-an-hour slider at the back foot of one of our left-handed hitters. He did not have that pitch a year ago. So that is going to be a huge pitch for him.

    I'd love to talk about obviously Sean Hjelle, just voted as Second Team all-SEC. He's the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year. He stayed here this summer with (strength) Coach (Ryan) DeVriendt. He has gained 20 pounds. He is bigger, he is stronger. He's attacking hitters as well as he ever has, and his changeup is better.

    And then the third piece to that puzzle is Zack Thompson. He's better. His changeup, his breaking ball, slider are all better. When you talk about our weekend rotation between Hjelle, Zack Thompson and Justin Lewis, we feel really good about those three.

    Bullpen pieces, Chris Machamer is a guy -- obviously Logan Salow was a First Team all-SEC. You start sitting there thinking about, we had the First Team all-SEC pitcher and First Team all-SEC closer. That's going to be tough to replace, right? Logan Salow. But Chris Machamer is a guy that has done really well. He was undefeated as a freshman, as all you guys remember. He's throwing the ball well.

    Brad Schaenzer is a guy who's going throw a valuable role for us. Last year he started games. He threw out of the bullpen. He's going to do that again.

    Zach Haake is a junior college transfer that we have, one of the highest rated prospects in the entire country. He's been 92, 96. He throws an 85- to 88-mile-an-hour slider. We're excited about him, except he was at class a couple weeks ago, he was walking out of class, slips down the stairs and breaks some bones in his left hand. We're not excited about that, but he's probably a couple weeks away, but he'll be back and ready to go. It is his non-throwing hand, so that's good.

    Freshmen Daniel Harper, Mason Hazelwood and Jimmy Ramsey have all impressed. They're going to pitch for us along with Alec Maley. That's our pitching staff.

    Catchers, obviously you guys all know this. We have Troy Squires back, Second Team all-SEC catcher, and Kole Cottam. We have two good a catchers as anybody in the country. I feel confident about that, and our third catcher, Marshall Gei has the biggest heart that you can ask for.

    Infielders, who's going to play first base? It's going to be a couple different guys. Kole Cottam is going to spend some time there, Troy Squires, T.J. Collett, Brayden Combs are all guys that have played there. Luke Becker slides from third base to second base. He was just voted by the coaches all-SEC Second Team. We're excited he's a senior. He is better in all areas of his game.

    Trey Dawson, if the season started today, would be our shortstop. He has earned it. He's as good a defender as I've coached. He came to us from Chipola Junior College, where they won a National Championship. He won the Gold Glove there.

    Third base, Luke Heyer is a guy that saw some playing time there some last year. He is much improved, along with Alex Rodriguez, Troy Black, Coltyn Kessler, and I mentioned Brayden Combs at first base, and Zeke Lewis are all guys that will play for us.

    Last thing is the outfielders. Tristan Pompey obviously is the catalyst there, right, returning All-American. He's going to play some time in left field. He'll play some in center, but left field is the hardest place to play in our ballpark when you think about the short right field. You don't have to cover as much ground, and Tristan is an elite defender. He'll play some in center, but obviously left field is an important piece. Zach Reks did a phenomenal job.

    And then the last couple guys I want to mention are junior college transfers in the outfield, Ryan Shinn, Ben Aklinski and Ryan Johnson, and Cam Hill, the freshman from Scott County, will see some time in the outfield.

    Last thing I'll cover before I open it up is our schedule. Another challenging schedule. 21 games versus ranked opponents, nine versus teams ranked in the top six. We have 25 games against a team that made it to a regional last year, 12 teams that made it to a super regional, and my last plea is to the Big Blue Nation. We need you there, because it will be a home-field advantage, and yes, we will be playing "Sweet Caroline" every eighth inning, so please sing along.