Carroll’s power surge pacing UK’s offense

By Matthew George

The offensive numbers the UK baseball team has put up this season have been downright impressive. The Cats (9-0) have scored 10 or more runs in every game and are batting .376 as a team.

But the individual power surge showcased by senior right fielder Sawyer Carroll might be the most impressive of all.

Carroll has already belted five home runs through UK’s first nine games, two more than the Henryetta, Okla., native hit all of last season. He also leads the team in batting average (.600), slugging percentage (1.333) and RBIs (23).

But Carroll said his approach at the plate is not that much different than it was a season ago, when it took him 29 games to hit his first home run and he finished the 54-game year with just three total long balls.

“It’s really not that big of a change,” he said. “I’m really just trying to hit more fly balls and not so many line drives. I mean, line drives are good, but you have to pick your spots when you can try and lift the ball.”

Carroll led the Southeastern Conference with 23 doubles in 2007 and was selected by the Washington Nationals in the 18th round of the MLB draft. But Carroll turned down a six-figure contract to return for his senior season and one more shot at leading ninth-ranked UK to Omaha, Neb., site of the College World Series.

“When he decided to come back, I told him his swing didn’t need to change,” head coach John Cohen said. “What needed to change was his body a little bit. He’s just dedicated himself to eating the right things and getting bigger and stronger the right way, and he has.”

Extensive weight training in the summer and fall helped Carroll transform the 190-pound frame he brought with him as a junior transfer from Seminole Community College. Cohen said his right fielder now weighs in at 217 pounds, and the added strength is the main reason he’s hitting for more power.

Whatever the cause, Carroll’s production is already being recognized across the country. Yesterday, he was named the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association National Player of the Week. The honor came a day after Carroll was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week and the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Week.

And for good reason. The senior batted .667 to lead UK to a 6-0 week, and notched two doubles, a triple and 17 RBIs. Carroll has also homered in four consecutive games, a feat believed to be the first of its kind in school history.

“He’s got as good of hand-eye coordination as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Cohen said. He’s got just off-the-charts ability to put throw the barrel of the bat at the baseball. With the additional weight and the additional strength, the ball is going to get out of the ballpark.”

Carroll has the chance to build upon his long-ball streak in today’s 4 p.m. contest against Evansville (0-7) at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

And even if he continues to hit home runs, Carroll said his newfound power has not given him any more confidence at the plate than he had before.

“It doesn’t feel any different,” he said. “Nah, I’m just trying to knock in runs and win games.”