Cats suit up for a fresh start in 2011



The UK baseball team will be leaving the sunny skies of Lexington this weekend to open its 2011 season with three games in Charleston, S.C.

The team will play College of Charleston on Friday afternoon, followed by a matchup with Marshall University on Saturday and finally a showdown with rival Miami (Ohio) to close out the weekend on Sunday.

This year’s club is strong in many areas, beginning with their starting pitching. The Cats return all three starters to their rotation from a year ago in Alex Meyer, Jordan Cooper and Taylor Rodgers. All three will get a start on this weekend’s road trip.

Meyer, the ace of the staff, was named to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference team by Baseball America, and was named the fifth-best pro prospect in the SEC by the same source. Nationally, he was ranked the 21st-best prospect in America leading up to the new season.

On this year’s UK team, Meyer will need to be more than just a force on the field, but also a leader in the clubhouse for a team with plenty of new young faces.

“I feel like I can come into that role (as a leader),” Meyer said. “I think I return the most innings of anyone on this staff. Those young guys are going to look up to me and I think I am going to have to help them as much as I can.”

In the field, the focus for the Cats in 2011 will be defense, an area they struggled in at times in 2010. UK will return their starting shortstop Taylor Black for his senior season. Black was drafted in the 28th round in 2010 by the St. Louis Cardinals, but opted to return to UK to finish his college career.

“We’ve got a drafted shortstop back,” Henderson said. “He’s bigger, stronger, he’s better. The arm is better and probably as big a benefit as anything is he knows he belongs in the league now.”

After Black, the rest of the infield will be brand new in 2011.

Braden Kapteyn, the team’s closer in the bullpen, will start at first base and be substituted for when he is called upon to pitch. At second and third base Henderson was non-committal as to who would be the opening day starters, but assured that the competition at these positions will fuel great performances by whoever wins the job.

“We’ve got to replace the three infield spots,” Henderson said. “We’ve got third base will be a new player from last year, as will second base and first base. We’ve got extremely good candidates at every spot, but there is competition. That’s been a really healthy thing.”

In the outfield, UK seems to be content with left-fielder Chad Wright Jr. Wright was named an all-star this past summer playing in the Cape Cod League, one of the top amateur leagues in the country, and is ready to bring at experience to the ballpark this season for the Cats. In centerfield UK will start Brian Adams, also featured on the UK football team. The two-sport athlete brings a lot to the table defensively in the outfield.

One player to look for in 2011 is UK’s Neiko Johnson, whose speed on the bases and versatility in the field benefit the Cats’ small-ball style of play. Look for Johnson to have a breakout year for the Cats at the plate, in the field and especially on the base path.

Overall, Henderson and his players are optimistic about the start of the 2011 season. Last year, the Cats missed out on a spot in the NCAA tournament by one game, and will look to get over the hump this year.

“We’ve got a great group. We’re going to have a good season. (We’ve) got great kids and great families,” Henderson said.

After their weekend trip to Charleston, UK will travel to Morehead for a matchup with the Morehead State Eagles on Tuesday, February 22, and then will return home for their home opener against Eastern-Michigan on Wednesday, February 23.