UK Baseball retains solid pitching rotation for 2016 season

Sophomore pitcher Kyle Cody pitches during the game between the University of Kentucky baseball team vs. Eastern Michigan University in Lexington , Ky.,on Saturday, March 1, 2014. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff 

Chris Angolia

While UK basketball is in full swing and March is rapidly approaching, students should not forget that baseball season is just around the corner.

The Cats are looking to rebound from an off year in 2015, which saw them go 30-25 while boasting a 14-15 conference record.

Head coach Gary Henderson is entering his eighth season at the helm of the Cats and is looking to lead them back to the NCAA tournament after last year’s absence.

Although they may be a young team with only seven seniors on the roster, the Cats do not lack experience — especially in their pitching staff.

“It’s the most experience and most qualified starting rotation that we’ve had,” Henderson said. “We are one of the few places in the country to have drafted juniors come back as seniors. We are obviously very proud of that and the statement it makes when kids turn down professional baseball and decide to come back and play their senior year for you.”

Senior right-handers Kyle Cody and Dustin Beggs, along with junior right-hander Zack Brown are slated to be the weekend starters for the Cats in 2016. Cody in particular is a nice name to see on the roster after many expected him to go pro after getting drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft.

Cody decided to return for his senior season here at UK, which is a big boost to the 2016 staff and it is easy to see that Cody is looking forward to 2016.

“It’s a great group of guys, a lot of talent, high hopes, a lot of potential, it’s just going to be a fun year,” Cody said.

As for the Cats’ lineup, they are led by junior 3B JaVon Shelby and sophomore 1B Evan White. The duo will also anchor the Cats defensively.

Both Shelby and White are carrying high expectations into 2016 after stellar 2015 campaigns.

Shelby, after moving from second to third base this year, is coming into the season as a preseason All-American as well as coming off being named All-SEC in 2015. However, he is not focused so much on himself as he is on the team.

“I’m glad I was named All-American and I am excited to show people what were about this year,” Shelby said regarding his preseason accolades as well as the season as a whole. 

As for White, the sophomore is looking to improve on a tremendous freshman season which saw him start all but three games. He will look to be a leader on this team and although he is only a sophomore, he has the ability to do great things.

“We’ve probably got the best first baseman in America,” coach Henderson said. “He’s bigger, he’s faster, he’s going to be a better player for us this year.”

White, at UK media day, spoke about how excited and confident this group is going into the season.

“We’re really excited, as a team we have great team chemistry and we are all confident in our abilities and that’s what I think will take us a long way, and I think it’s going to be a very good year and we are all looking forward to it,” White said.

The rest of the lineup is yet to be determined, Henderson said, but many young players are competing for spots in the lineup and on the field.  The competitive nature of this team is evident through players like Cody, Shelby and White, proving to be one of Henderson’s best groups yet.

The Cats come in as the 25th best team in the nation, according to the Baseball America preseason poll, while they are receiving votes in other national preseason polls as well.

As always, the SEC looks to be loaded with contenders, boasting seven teams in nearly every poll nationally. It also has multiple top five teams coming into the season, led by No. 1 Florida.

Regardless of rankings, the Cats are looking as if they will be a force to reckon with this season.

“If you are in this league it is about championships. The first one is an SEC Championship and the second one is the national championship,” Henderson said. “That is what it is. The kids here that from me every single year. There is no hiding from that in the SEC. It is the best league in the country. That is the task. That is the goal.”