UK baseball players gain experience in collegiate baseball summer leagues


Luke Becker makes a plate appearance for the Willmar Stingers in the Northwoods League in the 2017 season. Becker is one of UK’s top returners after being one of the best hitters in the 2017 season.

Charlee Schaefer

After a historical 2017 season for UK baseball, the Cats are left with some big holes to fill.

UK lost 11 total players from last year’s team, seven players to the draft and four to graduation. Many young players on the roster will need to step up to fulfill the expectations surrounding UK baseball, so many of the Cats competed in collegiate summer baseball leagues to gain experience for next season.

Seventeen members of the current roster travelled across the country this summer to play in the collegiate summer baseball leagues, including some stars from the 2017 team.

In the Northwoods League, senior infielder Luke Becker played in 37 games for the Willmar Stingers, collecting 31 runs, 32 hits and 18 RBI while averaging .256 in the batters box.

Playing in the Northwoods League for his third summer, Becker hopes his experiences in the league can teach him lessons in being a leader. 

“I came up here trying to prepare myself for next year and to share my experiences and help these guys as much as I can,” Becker said. “Going into the fall, there are a lot of junior college guys coming in and I have been there. I’ve made that transition and I think I can help them, more than the other guys, make that transition to the division-one level. That’s a role I really want to take on.”

Other notable stars to play in summer leagues were Tristan Pompey and Kole Cottam. Pompey hit 15 RBI in 23 games while Cottam batted .277 in 20 games.

While the summer leagues are a time for star players to remain sharp, they are also an oppritunity for young players to get playing time and gain experience, and sophomore infielder Joey Bellini took advantage of his opportunity.

Bellini, who only made two plate appearances for the Cats last season, played in 29 games in the Valley League for the Waynesboro Generals. He notched 13 runs, 23 hits and 13 RBI while averaging a .258 batting average. Bellini was named to the 2017 Valley League All-Star team. 

“During the fall, playing against all of my teammates, you know what they’ve got so when you play some different guys it’s kind of neat,” Bellini said in regard to playing what would be his competition and/or his UK teammates, in summer leagues.

Sophomore catcher J.P. Bitzenhofer would end up being another Wildcat named to a summer leage All-Star team. Playing in 32 games for the Gaithersburg Giants in the Cal Ripken League, Bitzenhofer secured 15 runs, 29 hits, 12 RBI and a .248 batting average.

Luke Heyer, T.J. Collett and Brayden Combs also performed well in their own leagues, as each batted over .310, with Collett leading the way at .375.

A handful of pitchers from UK also took part in the summer-action. Pitching is expected to be the biggest strength for the Cats next season, but with the departures of Zach Logue, Zach Pop and Logan Salow, the Cats will need young pitchers to step up.

Going into his senior campaign, Alec Maley is looking to take that next step and he showed signs that he could be a good relief pitcher in the Cal Ripken League for the Baltimore Redbirds.

Maley pitched 12.2 innings while striking out 16 and only giving up four walks. Maley averaged a 1.42 ERA and had two saves. Maley was named to the Cal Ripken League All-Star Team. 

Austin Keen might be known for his water-cup rally cap he made in the NCAA Tournament, but he is aiming to be one of the pitchers who steps up for the Cats.

“I hope to be a main relief guy and I hope that the coaching staff can look at me and say, ‘Hey, I trust this guy to go in,’” Keen said. “That’s ultimately what I want, to be trusted by the coaching staff.”

Keen pitched 13.2 innings with a 0-0 record, 3.29 ERA, ten strikeouts, 11 walks and 11 hits in the Cal Ripken League.

“I really hope that I’m a guy that people can say, ‘That’s a good dude,’ even if everything doesn’t pan out, if I’m not pitching my best, I just want people to be like, ‘Man, that guy really helped me improve my game,’” Keen said.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Chris Machamer made many appearances in relief last season and is expected to be one of the better pitchers coming out of the bullpen next season for the Cats. Machamer pitched 6.2 innings for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Perfect Game League, but maintained a 1.35 ERA with a 2-0 record.

Many more UK players participated in summer league action, getting the experience they need to make an impact for UK. The Cats might have had the second most players drafted in the history of UK baseball, but if the summer league stats project the future for UK baseball, then the future is bright.