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Kentucky Wildcats Baseball: MLB Draft Preview

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The Major League Baseball Amateur Draft will be conducted next week, beginning on Monday, June 8. Kentucky has several current underclassmen and incoming recruits who figure to be drafted, some with a chance at going in the 1st round.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach Gary Henderson has done a lot to improve the baseball team at Kentucky since taking over in 2009 and that improvement has been reflected in the MLB draft each June.  This year figures to be no different with several of Kentucky's current and incoming high school players likely to be selected in this year's draft.

Important Dates

  • June 8 - 10: MLB Draft
  • July 17: Deadline for draft picks to sign

Who's Eligible

  • High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college
  • College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old
  • Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed

Unlike the NFL and NBA drafts, there is no "declaration" phase for underclassmen or high school players in baseball.  As a consequence, even if a player is drafted they can still attend college as long as they don't do any of the normal stuff: sign with an agent, accept money, etc.

Kentucky Players

I've divided this into two sections: current Wildcats who are draft eligible and the incoming class, which is particularly strong this year.  The list of incoming recruits is from Perfect Game.  To give a sense of how the players are viewed I've included rankings from three prospect lists around the web:

  1. MLB.com Top 200
  2. Baseball America Top 500
  3. Matt Garrioch Top 400: From John Sickels' outstanding Minor League Ball SBN site

Current Wildcats

I've split the current Wildcat players into Seniors and Juniors.  Juniors have the option to return to school, even if they are drafted.

Name Pos Class MLB 200 BA 500 SBN 400
Bernal, Thomas IF/C RS SR


Jack, Spencer RHP SR


Nelson, Andrew RHP SR


As you can see, Kentucky was really, really young this year with only 3 seniors on the roster.  All three played important roles on the team.  Spencer Jack and Andrew Nelson had a rough 2015 season, but gave Henderson veteran options in the bullpen for late game situations.  Thomas Bernal had a difficult year at the plate, but was regarded as a good defender.  He'll probably get drafted by someone in the later rounds.

Name Pos Class MLB 200 BA 500 SBN 400
Arnold, Zach C JR


Barrett, Kyle OF JR
223
Bastien, Bryce OF RS JR


Beggs, Dustin RHP JR


Cody, Kyle RHP JR 40 76 72
Combs, Ryne LHP JR


Dwyer, Dylan LHP JR


Fettes, Greg C RS JR


Hairston, Dorian OF JR


Heady, Conner SS SO

362
Martin, Taylor RHP RS JR


Oyler, Blake RHP RS SO


Snyder, Matt LHP RS JR


Strecker, Zach RHP RS JR


Tom, Ka'ai OF/2B JR
238
Wilson, Bo RHP JR


Wilson, Storm OF RS SO


Notes:

  • Kyle Cody was regarded as a 1st Round pick entering the season, but he slipped a bit due to his inconsistent season.  He seemed to have righted the ship at the end of the year though, so a team who really likes him might still grab him in the first round.  He won't make it past the second and I'll be shocked if he returns to UK for his Senior year.
  • Kyle Barrett and Ka'ai Tom are on my "cross my fingers" list.  Both could easily be taken inside the first 12 rounds, which would likely mean they're gone next season, or they could fall just far enough that returning to school for another year is the better option.  A big part of next season's success will hinge on what happens with these two.
  • Dustin Beggs is a notable omission from these lists.  Beggs was a 17th round pick last year by the Cardinals out of Georgia Perimeter College, and all he did was dominate in the toughest conference in college ball.  I have to think he is going to jump up several rounds this year, and if that happens I'm guessing he won't pass on a pro career a second time.  Beggs is another player whose return would be a HUGE boost for next season.
  • I'm not sure why Garrioch ranked Conner Heady.  As far as I can tell, he won't be old enough to be eligible, but Matt knows way more about this than I do so I'll defer to his expertise.  Regardless, I don't think there's any danger in losing Heady next season.
  • None of the unranked Juniors jump out at me as guys who might go early enough to matter.  Dylan Dwyer had a good year in the pen and can start, but I think another year would improve any likely draft position.

Incoming Recruits

Name Pos Class MLB 200 BA 500 SBN 400
Travis Blankenhorn SS HS 184 75 77
Kole Cottam C HS


Sean Hjelle RHP HS


Austin Keen RHP HS


Isaiah Lewis SS HS


Keegan McHood RHP HS


Jeremy Orbik RHP HS


Nick Plummer OF HS 27 11 18
Tristan Pompey OF HS
237
Nicholas Shumpert SS HS 200 127 46
Joshua Smith LHP HS


Notes:

  • Gary Henderson has put together what is probably his best recruiting class ever.  Unfortunately, when you sign a lot of talented high school players you tend to lose most of them to the draft.
  • Nick Plummer is the gem of the class, but the only way he's in Lexington next year is if he's playing for or against the Legends.
  • Nick Shumpert is the son of former Wildcat and ex-MLBer Terry Shumpert.  That might make it easier to keep him if he falls closer to the 200th overall pick than he does to the 46th.
  • Just keeping one of the ranked HS players would be a huge boost to the team next season.  I don't expect it to happen, but sometimes players surprise you.  The fact that MLB teams now have spending limits for the draft could be the difference in keeping one of these guys.

Consequences for 2016

It's pointless to speculate about how the team will do before knowing the makeup of the roster, and we won't know that until after the July 19 signing deadline.  However, Kentucky just missed the CWS last season with a very young team.  Many of the Wildcats' best players this year were freshmen and sophomores (Evan White, Zack Brown, JaVon Shelby) so they should have a good team even in the worst-case scenario (every ranked player above is drafted and signs).

On the other hand, if some of these guys return to school, the Cats could be looking at one of their best teams in school history next season.  To me the three critical players are Beggs, Tom, and Barrett.  Beggs and Brown would give UK two dominant weekend starters which would have a downstream effect of giving Gary Henderson more flexibility in finding a good mid-week starter.  Tom and Barrett, paired with Shelby and White, would give the lineup a really good 1-4 in the batting order.

Kentucky has a lot of talented players on the roster and in the recruiting class.  A lot of those guys are never going to don the Blue and White again (or ever), but there's still talent on the team and anyone who comes back is going to provide a huge boost for next year.