Replacing Reed no easy task for Cats

Kentucky 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

By Derek Terry

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With UK baseball’s season opener just over a week away, the question that everyone is asking is how to replace departed NCAA All-American A.J. Reed.

“I’m not sure you’re going to replace A.J. with one guy,” head coach Gary Henderson said. “Clearly we’re going to have a different team offensively. We were old and strong last year. We’ll have a different club this year.”

Reed played an instrumental role on the mound and at the plate in leading UK to a 37-25 record last year. At the plate, Reed hit .336 with 23 home runs and 73 runs batted in. On the mound, he started 16 games for the Cats, going 12-2 with a 2.09 earned run average.

While it’s difficult to replace a dual-threat player like Reed, Henderson is confident that his team is up to the task.

Junior Kyle Cody, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound right-hander looks to be the favorite to take over the Friday night role for the Cats on the mound. As a sophomore, Cody split time between the starting rotation and bullpen while battling injuries, appearing in 18 games and starting six. Cody finished 4-0 on the year with a 2.84 ERA. After the season, the right-hander pitched well in the Cape Cod league, earning him preseason All-American honors going into 2015.

Cody hasn’t paid much attention to the preseason accolades.

“I’ve seen them, but it doesn’t mean too much to me,” Cody said. “It’s still an honor for me to get those accolades, but I don’t look too much into them.”

UK will also be different on defense. Fifth-year senior infielder Thomas Bernal will be making the switch from first base. A position he made 51 starts at in 2014, to third base. The move has been a learning experience for Bernal.

“It’s fun and quite a process,” Bernal said. “(Hitting coach Rick) Eckstein has been working with me about pre-pitch and all of that. It’s been fun and I’m looking forward to it.”

As far as who would replace Bernal at first, Henderson said that freshman Evan White has earned the starting job going into the season. White, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-handed hitter impressed the coaching staff in fall and winter workouts.

Henderson said that White is also the best defensive first baseman UK has had in “maybe seven or eight years.”

“You’re all going to know Evan White’s name,” Henderson said. “He’s going to be a really good player. I don’t want to put too much on him too soon, but he’s clearly going to be a good player.”

In the outfield, Kentucky returns four players who played extensively last year, including juniors Ka’ai Tom and Kyle Barrett, as well as sophomores Marcus Carson and Storm Wilson.

The emergence of Tom in the outfield last season was a pleasant surprise for the Cats. The Kaneohe, Hawaii native looks to build off of last season’s success.

“Of course you want to get better from year to year and elevate your skill,” Tom said. “Hopefully I just keep up the success and not try to do too much.”

But no matter how many players there are to contribute in replacing Reed’s offensive and defensive stats, the task remains a daunting one.

“That’s just someone you don’t really replace,” Tom said. “He won all of the national player of the year awards. That’s just unheard of. Collectively, I feel like all of us can contribute at different levels.”