The MLB draft signing deadline came and went last Friday and the Wildcats came through it a big time winner. The headliner is RHP Kyle Cody's decision to return to school for his senior season despite being selected in the Competitive Balance portion of the second round by the Twins (73rd overall), but not to be overlooked are the returns of RHP Dustin Beggs and veteran catcher Greg Fettes. Kentucky also will bring in two recruits who were drafted - OF Tristan Pompey and LHP Daniel Tillo.
The Big Three
The return of Cody and Beggs along with RHP Zack Brown means that Kentucky will return its entire weekend rotation from this past season. Last year Brown (6-6, 3.48 ERA) and Beggs (7-4, 3.65 ERA) emerged as co-aces of the staff, solidifying the Friday and Saturday starter positions while leading the team in innings pitched. Cody (4-4, 4.91 ERA) had an up-and-down season that was more down than up, but in his final three starts he threw 20.2 innings allowing only 4 runs (1.74 ERA), striking out 21 hitters, and walking only 5. Cody is an elite pitcher with an excellent chance to be a first-round pick next year and there is every reason to believe he will build on those last three starts.
With Brown, Beggs, and Cody Kentucky has a strong argument for wielding the best weekend rotation in the SEC.
Zack Brown. Dustin Beggs. Kyle Cody. That'll play. #UKbaseball pic.twitter.com/H3fyJy2T9m— Kentucky Baseball (@UKBaseball) July 17, 2015
Veteran Behind the Dish
A recurring trend for Gary Henderson's teams is the presence of a veteran catcher each year. Fettes took over for Micheal Thomas last season and the team barely missed a beat. He wasn't quite the hitter Thomas was, but Fettes did hit 5 homeruns, tied with Ka'ai Tom for second on the team. As long as he continues his excellent work behind the plate, any offense is just a bonus.
At this point I assume Fettes is returning to UK, although the school has not officially announced his return the way it has for Cody and Beggs.
Reinforcements Have Arrived
The 2015-16 recruiting class was exceptionally strong for Gary Henderson. Unfortunately, a strong class usually means many of those players never make it to campus due to the draft. So it was this year as OF Nick Plummer (1st round, 23rd overall) and SS Travis Blankenhorn (3rd, 80th) both elected to sign with the Cardinals and Twins respectively. SS Nick Shumpert (7th, 220th) did not sign with the Tigers, but he has elected to go the JUCO route so that he can enter the draft next summer.
Fortunately, Kentucky did manage to hang on to OF Tristan Pompey (31st, 920th) and they actually added a commitment after the draft from LHP Daniel Tillo (39th, 1160th). Pompey should have the chance for immediate playing time with the losses of Ka'ai Tom and Kyle Barrett. If Tillo plays immediately it will most likely be out of the bullpen.
Also, Fun Fact: Daniel Tillo is Iowa's Mr. Basketball, so obviously he made the right choice of school. Maybe he'll get a chance to walk on with Cal and Company?
Dream Big in 2016
Certainly there are questions headed into next year. Who is going to replace Ka'ai Tom and Kyle Barrett on offense? Will the bullpen rebound from a rough season? Can Gary Henderson find a reliable midweek starter to complement the weekend rotation? But there is no question that Kentucky has a strong team and that hosting a regional is a very realistic goal. If a few things break right, this could be the best UK squad since the 2006 team that went 44-17, tied for the SEC regular season title, and hosted a regional.