Mingione sparks excitement for 2018 baseball season


Kentucky Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione jogs off the field during the ninth inning of the second game of 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium on Saturday, June 10, 2017 in Louisville, KY. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff.

Charlee Schaefer

Preseason-ranked No. 8 Kentucky baseball held its 2018 Media Day on Thursday afternoon at Kroger Field, and head coach Nick Mingione talked about the season to come and what fans can expect out of this year’s club.

Mingione constantly discusses how this team is devoted to its sport, academics and service to the community. He said he wants his players to focus on being a student, a person and player. They have all done extensive community service this year and are thriving academically, he said.

Finishing the 2017 season at the bottom of the league defensively has motivated Mingione to make it a prime focus this year.

“We want to be committed to be an elite defensive team,” Mingione said. “We want to lead the league in fielding.”

From an offensive standpoint, the Cats lost many of their powerhouses last year to the draft. Tristan Pompey, Luke Becker and Kole Cottam are expected to step up and fill the gaps from Evan White, Riley Mahan and Zach Reks.

“We lost our everyday first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, left fielder and centerfielder, but we’re excited,” Mingione said. “I promise we will still be good offensively.” 

With 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle, MLB draftee Justin Lewis and a top-rated prospect for the 2019 draft Zach Thompson returning, UK’s rotation and pitching look promising this year. The bullpen will also feature strong players such as Chris Machamer, Zach Haake and Alec Maley.

Behind home plate, the Cats have Second Team All-SEC catcher Troy Squires returning, as well as Cottam, who is one of the top rated catchers in the 2018 Draft. 

This morning, Pompey was voted to the preseason coaches All-SEC First Team, and Hjelle and Becker were named Second Team.

New players to look out for:

  • Trey Dawson, a JUCO transfer who helped his team to a national championship and won a gold glove, is expected to be a force in the infield. Dawson was selected as the top defensive player in the NJCAA World Series and the Panhandle Conference.
  • Ben Aklinski, another JUCO transfer from Phoenix, Arizona, was the NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year and the Arizona Community College Conference Player of the Year. Aklinski was awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove for his defensive work and had a .364 batting average in 2017.

2018 season tickets are completely sold out for the first time in program history and the program is rapidly gaining national recognition. If the season goes the way Mingione and fans think it will, fans are in for a real treat.

“My challenge to Big Blue Nation is, you’ve bought the tickets, now you’ve gotta show up,” Mingione said. “My last plea to Big Blue Nation: We need you there.”