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Kentucky Baseball: 2016 MLB Draft

The June draft brings more questions than usual for a Kentucky team that has signed an extraordinarily strong recruiting class but must also find a new head coach to replace Gary Henderson.

A.J. Reed is really freaking good.
A.J. Reed is really freaking good.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Gary Henderson isn't the head coach of the Wildcats any longer, but his influence on next year's squad will still be felt with the results of this weekend's MLB draft.

Kentucky has a few juniors who will have to decide between returning to school or beginning their professional careers, but the real question is how many members of Henderson's final recruiting class the Cats will be able to hold on to.

The class is currently ranked #10 overall by Perfect Game, though that number will change as players are drafted and sign contracts or not.  Mitch Barnhart needs to fill the seat quickly if UK has any hopes of convincing drafted players to choose school and delay their pro career.

Important Dates

  • June 9 - 11: MLB Draft
  • July 15: 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 even  stronger this year than last.  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. Top 200
  2. Baseball America Top 500
  3. cookiedabookie Top 151: From John Sickels' outstanding Minor League Ball SBN site

Current Wildcats

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

Seniors Pos Class MLB 200 BA 500 SBN 400
Zach Arnold C Senior

Dylan Dwyer LHP Senior

Dustin Beggs RHP Senior
Kyle Cody RHP Senior 152 80 106
Dorian Hairston OF Senior

Zach Strecker RHP Senior (RS)

Bo Wilson RHP Senior

Last year Kyle Cody made the surprising decision (to me anyway) to return to school after being drafted in the 2nd round.  Kyle had a terrific year, but as a senior it wasn't quite enough to help his draft position.  He'll still likely go in the first 5 rounds though.

Dustin Beggs doesn't have the ever-popular "upside" that is so important in a draft for any sport, but he is a polished college pitcher with good command of 4 pitches.  He could do well for an organization that is looking for someone who can move quickly through the minors.  It's hard for me to believe that no one will take a guy with his credentials.

Juniors Pos Class MLB 200 BA 500 SBN 400
Zack Brown RHP Junior 80 125 77
Marcus Carson OF Junior

Joe Dudek 1B Junior

Connor Heady INF Junior

Tyler Marshall INF Sophomore (RS)

Gunnar McNeill 1B Junior

Zach Reks INF Junior

Logan Salow LHP Junior

JaVon Shelby INF Junior 158 260
Troy Squires INF Sophomore (RS)

Storm Wilson OF Junior (RS)

UK doesn't have as many Juniors this year who are likely to be drafted high enough to leave school.  Zack Brown probably, if he goes as high as the various organizations are projecting.  Last year it seemed a stone cold lock that JaVon Shelby would be gone, but he had a rough season and just tested positive for a PED during a pre-draft drug test so who knows what will happen to him.

Beyond those two, Storm Wilson and Gunnar McNeill seem the most likely candidates to get picked by a team, but it's hard to see either of them going high enough to leave school.

Incoming Recuits

High School Pos Class MLB 200 BA 500 SBN 151
Akil Baddoo OF HS 72 54 93
Joe Bellini SS HS

TJ Collett C HS
Brayden Combs 1B HS

J.C. Flowers OF HS 165 142 141
Nick Hanson RHP HS 112 83
William Holland SS HS

Christopher Machamer RHP HS
Easton McGee RHP HS 126 112 129
Parker Scott LHP HS

Jaren Shelby OF HS
388 127
Zack Thompson LHP HS 146 308

Did I mention how good UK's recruiting class was?  That is always a double-edged sword in baseball though, as many of these players will never step foot on campus even if UK had made a regional and Gary Henderson was still the head coach.  History suggests that Baddoo, Flowers, Hanson, McGee, and Thompson will all be in that group.

It will be up to whomever the new coach is to see who he can convince to stick with the Wildcats.  McGee is a local kid from Hopkinsville so there might be a better-than-usual chance to keep him.  This also isn't the final list of recruits.  Last year UK added Sean Hjelle after the draft and the big lefty righty had a terrific freshman year as the closer.  If Kentucky can hold on to McGee and everyone else not mentioned in the above paragraph they would form a good core with the current group of freshman going in to 2018.

Consequences for 2017

From a roster standpoint, the draft this year doesn't impact UK as much as it did last year.  Only 2 Cats are likely to have decisions to make (Brown and Shelby).  It was probably expected that both would leave after this year so plans should already have been made to replace them.

On the infield, Riley Mahan could move back to 3B with Conner Heady returning to SS.  That alone would help improve the infield defense considerably.  There are several candidates for the weekend rotation, though they are mostly untested.  Zach Logue is a lock moving from the midweek starter.  Zach Pop should be there too.  Sean Hjelle and Justin Lewis are both candidates and I still think Logan Salow deserves a shot.  There will undoubtedly be someone who makes a splash during the summer leagues who could also emerge (Daniel Tillo perhaps).

UK will lose several recruits to the draft, but that was always going to be the case.  It will be a big win if UK's next coach is able to hold together the rest of the class.