The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

Follow us on Instagram

Who’s back, who’s gone and who’s in? Everything fans should know about the 2024 Kentucky baseball roster

Samuel Colmar
Kentucky players cheer after an inning during the No.10 Kentucky vs. Dayton baseball game on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in downtown Lexington in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff

The 2023 season was a historic one for Kentucky baseball. 

After going 40-21 in the regular season – including a 16-14 record in SEC play – Kentucky went on to win a NCAA Regional Tournament hosted at Kentucky Proud Park, putting the expectations for the Wildcats at an all-time high.

Additionally, last season saw the Cats snap a five-year NCAA Tournament drought which dated back to head coach Nick Mingione’s inaugural season.

Emulating that success again is going to be challenging, especially when dealing with recent transfers, graduates, recruits and drafted players like every season. With that in mind, here’s a condensed version of Kentucky baseball’s most relevant roster transactions.

Players to Watch

Travis Smith, RHP, Redshirt Sophomore – As a freshman last season, Smith made 13 starts and finished with a 4.84 ERA and 4-3 record on the mound.

The righty pitched six innings against South Carolina, striking out a career-high eight batters in a 7-3 Kentucky victory.

Afterward, the Walton, Kentucky, native was named SEC co-Freshman of the Week for his performance.

According to, Smith is ranked 71 on the 2024 MLB Draft prospect board.

Emilien Pitre, INF, Junior – Heading into the 2024 season, D1Baseball ranked Pitre as the ninth best second baseman in the country following his 2023 campaign.

The Canadian was named to the SEC-All Defensive Team and All Conference Second Team.

Kentucky Wildcats infielders Grant Smith (12) and Émilien Pitre (4) stand at second base during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Sunday, March 5, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 7-6. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

Pitre started all 61 games for the Cats last season. On offense the second baseman batted a .318 with 18 extra-base hits. Additionally, Pitre had a ten game hitting streak and led the team in walks.

Mason Moore, RHP, Junior – Moore is arguably Kentucky’s biggest return from last season.

The righty is making a jump from the bullpen to starting on the mound in 2024 after posting a strong 1.80 ERA in 55 innings pitched last season.

In last season’s NCAA Tournament, Moore pitched 14.1 scoreless innings, resulting in two wins.

The Morehead, Kentucky, native was named to preseason All-American Third Team by the National Baseball Collegiate Writers Association.

Grant Smith, INF, Senior – Last season Smith played all 61 games while dealing with a lingering hip injury.

In 2023, the shortstop batted .281 with eight doubles, eight homers and eight bunt hits.

Meanwhile, on defense, Smith was terrific, only making three errors on 244 chances, which led to him being named a Gold Glove Award Finalist.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native expects to be even better coming off a hip surgery over the offseason. 

Devin Burkes, C, Redshirt Junior – Burkes enters this season on the Coaches Preseason All-SEC Team. Furthermore, D1Baseball ranks Burkes as the 13th best catcher in the nation.

In the Lexington Regional last season, Burkes was awarded as Most Outstanding Player and All-Regional Team.

Kentucky’s backstop led the Wildcats with 18 doubles and finished second on the team in homers with nine. The Florida native played all 61 games, batting .291 and throwing out nine baserunners. 

Ryan Waldschmidt, OF, Junior – After one season at Charleston Southern, Waldschmidt transferred to Kentucky ahead of the 2023 season.

In Waldschmidt’s debut season he played in 59 games, batting .290 with 21 extra base hits.

Waldschmidt was expected to be one of Kentucky’s best players coming into the 2024 season, especially after earning a All-Regional Team selection in the Lexington Regional. At one point Waldschmidt was even viewed as one of Kentucky’s top MLB prospects.

Unfortunately, Waldschmidt suffered an ACL injury in summer ball, with coach Mingione expecting the junior to return in mid-March.

Kentucky Wildcats outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt (21) stands in the outfield during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Sunday, March 5, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 7-6. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

Notable Newcomers 

Ryan Nicholson, INF, Graduate Student – After spending four seasons with Cincinnati, Nicholson transferred south to Lexington.

In 2023, Nicholson batted .294 with 16 homers, 15 doubles and two triples. The Louisville native led the Bearcats with 56 hits and 19 multi-hit games.

Coach Mingione expects the former ACC Player of the Week winner to fill in at first base likely because of his near-perfect .990 fielding percentage from last season.

Ty Crittenberger, OF, Graduate Student – The former Western Kentucky outfielder transferred east to Lexington after playing three seasons in Bowling Green.

In 2023, Crittenberger batted .314 with 57 hits, 16 doubles, two triples and four homers.

Additionally, the transfer was a standout on the base paths, stealing 20 bases, which ranked third best in Conference USA.

It’s likely that the ex-Hilltopper will play in place of everyday starting outfielder Waldschmidt while he recovers from injury.

Dominic Niman, LHP, Graduate Student – Ahead of the 2024 season, Niman was named to the Preseason All-American First Team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Furthermore, D1Baseball recognized the lefty as a top 100 transfer and top 150 starting pitcher for this season.

Last season at Central Connecticut State, the ace tossed a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts, going 12-2.

The Connecticut native was given the Eastern College Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year Award for his efforts. Kentucky hopes Niman can continue his success on the mound at the power-five level. 

Johnny Hummel, RHP, Graduate Student – Hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina, Hummel is transferring north from Erskine College.

The righty earned All-Carolinas Conference First Team honors in 2022 and 2023 as a relief pitcher.

Last season Hummel made 23 appearances on the mound, earning seven saves with a 1.35 ERA.

Furthermore, the transfer struck out 63 batters in 33.1 innings pitched, which led to him being named to the All-Southeast Region First Team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

The Wildcats are anticipating Hummel to show his prowess again this season.

Kentucky Wildcats infielder Hunter Gilliam (14) swings his bat during the No. 18 Kentucky vs. No. 25 Missouri baseball game on Sunday, April 2, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 3-1. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis_Fannon)

Key Departures

Hunter Gilliam, INF, Graduated – Gilliam went from being a little known transfer from Longwood University to fan favorite in Lexington.

The Farmville, Virginia, native went on to lead Kentucky with 12 homers, 71 RBIs and slugged .551 in his lone season as a Wildcat.

Additionally, Gilliam batted .324 and was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team thanks to a stout .993 fielding percentage. 

Austin Strickland, RHP, Drafted – The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Strickland with the 227th overall pick.

As a member of the Cats’ pitching staff, the righty served as a relief pitcher and shifted into a starter near the end of the 2023 season.

Last season Strickland made 20 appearances and finished with a 4-2 record and 5.04 ERA. Moreover, the Ohio native struck out 58 batters in 55.1 innings pitched.

Magdiel Cotto, LHP, Drafted – The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Cotto with the 317th pick in the MLB draft.

After one season at South Carolina, Cotto transferred to Kentucky and played two seasons with the Cats.

Last season the lefty made 16 appearances, earning one win and striking out 26 batters in 18.0 innings pitched. Despite posting a 6.00 ERA, the reliever was selected in the 11th round.

Logan Martin, RHP, Drafted – The Kansas City Royals drafted Martin with the 249th pick in the 13th round of the MLB draft.

Prior to transferring to Kentucky, the righty played three seasons in Division-III at the University of the South in Tennessee.

In 2023, Martin started all but one game in his nine appearances, going 1-1 with a 4.44 ERA.

The Maysville, Kentucky, native struck out 30 batters in 26.1 innings pitched.

Seth Chavez, RHP, Signed – After the 2023 season, the Tampa Bay Rays inked Chavez to a minor league contract.

Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Seth Chavez (10) pitches the ball during the No. 18 Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky baseball game on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Kentucky won 10-8. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

The righty began his collegiate career in junior college before transferring to East Tennessee State, which led to Kentucky acquiring him for the 2023 season.

Last season Chavez made 12 appearances, going 2-1 with a 4.35 ERA. The reliever recorded 15 punch outs in 10.1 innings pitched in his lone season in Lexington.

Zach Lee, RHP, Signed – In July, the Detroit Tigers signed Lee after four seasons in Lexington.

In 2023, Lee started in all but one of his 16 appearances, going 5-4 with a 4.29 ERA. 

The righty showed out in a 9-2 victory over South Carolina, pitching 6.2 innings and striking out a career-high 12 batters while allowing two earned runs.

Lee was named Co-National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball.

Jackson Gray, OF, Graduated – Gray transferred from Western Kentucky ahead of the 2023 season.

The center fielder played in all but one game for the Cats and led the squad in batting average, on base+slugging percentage, hits, triples and hit by pitches.

Furthermore, Gray boasted a .993 fielding percentage. In 2023, Gray was named to Midwest All-Regional Second Team by American Baseball Coaches Association.

Kentucky baseball is set to begin its 2024 season on Friday, Feb. 16, at SC Upstate. Game one will start at 3 p.m. and air on ESPN+.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Samuel Colmar, Assistant Photo Editor

Comments (0)

All Kentucky Kernel Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *