When people think about pro athletes from the University of Kentucky, it’s nearly always those in the NBA.
DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Anthony Davis the list goes on and on. However, what many UK fans don’t realize is just how many of their baseball players are playing either in the big leagues or minor league levels of professional baseball.
Since Nick Mingione took over as head coach in 2017, he has had 21 players drafted by Major League Baseball teams. In 2018, 13 Kentucky Wildcats were selected. This was a Kentucky school record and number one among all schools nationwide.
This is quite the accomplishment and one that certainly has flown under the radar with the NBA draft seeing four Cats taken just a few short weeks after the MLB held their draft.
The school currently has 25 players scattered throughout the Minor League level. This includes many of the players from the 2018 squad like Sean Hjelle (Giants), Tristan Pompey (Marlins), Kole Cottam (Red Sox), and the other nine Kentucky draftees who signed with an MLB team.
Along with the 12 Kentucky signees from 2018, there is first baseman, Evan White, who was taken by Seattle in the first round of the 2017 MLB draft. White is tearing up the Single-A league. His current batting average is .287 and even was called all the way up to Triple A at one point this season.
Relief Pitcher Zach Pop was traded from the Dodgers to the Orioles in the Manny Machado trade, and has turned heads after pitching a 0.33 ERA out of the bullpen in 19 appearances at High A ball for the Dodgers. Pop will begin his journey with the Orioles in Double-A after being drafted just a season ago in the 7th round of the 2017 draft.
Starting pitcher and 2016 fifth rounder Zack Brown is the 24th ranked prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system and has been incredible at Double-A this season. Brown is pitching a superb 2.34 ERA and a perfect 9-0 record.
With a season-ending injury to Brewers starter Brent Suter, the Brewers pitching staff is going to need help from their farm system which means Brown may see himself in the majors very soon thanks to his outstanding numbers.
Many other Wildcats in the minors are making names for themselves and could soon take the next step. There they would join many accomplished players thriving at the big-league level.
Perhaps the most prominent name that comes from UK in the show right now is James Paxton. Paxton is currently on the disabled list but will be returning Tuesday which is big news because when healthy he is one of baseball’s best pitchers. The ace of the Mariners staff is a big reason why the club is in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
The southpaw is 8-4 this season with a 3.70 ERA. He has struck out 155 batters in just 119.1 innings pitched. Paxton also stitched his name into the MLB record books when he tossed a no-hitter in his homeland of Canada against the Blue Jays in May.
Along with Paxton, nine other former Wildcats are on big league rosters. Jason Kipnis is one of them. Though Kipnis ended up transferring to Arizona State after redshirting at UK is the most seasoned veteran out of Kentucky in the majors right now. Kipnis has been to two all-star games hitting a solid .264 batting average in his first eight big league seasons.
Other Kentucky alums include the starting shortstop for the Miami Marlins JT Riddle, backup catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays Luke Maile, Taylor Rodgers a reliever who has made 42 outings and pitched to a 4.02 ERA for the Minnesota Twins, Reliever Tim Peterson of the New York Mets, Reliever Chris Rusin of the Colorado Rockies, Reliever Trevor Gott of the Washington Nationals, and Starting Pitcher Alex Meyer of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
No, not all these players are superstars like many of the basketball alumni, but the baseball program has sent plenty of names on to live their dreams in the major leagues, leading all schools in that department in 2018.
Thus, Nick Mingione and those around this UK Baseball program deserve far more recognition and respect.