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Kentucky Baseball 2019 season recap, awards & more

A look back at the 2019 Bat Cats.

UK Atheltics

The Kentucky Wildcats 2019 season is now complete. It may not have been the winningest season in Kentucky Baseball history, but it’s safe to say it’s one that will never be forgotten.

2019 was the start of a new era of Kentucky Baseball, as the program opened their brand new 49 million dollar ballpark, Kentucky Proud Park.

On the field, it was a challenging year for the Cats. After losing 13 players, nearly all of whom played a significant role in helping the club reach the 2017 NCAA Super Regional, head coach Nick Mingione had to rely on inexperienced players, many being freshman, to rack up wins.

While the Cats would have a successful non-conference slate, SEC play was a challenge as the team failed to qualify for the SEC tournament in Hoover for the first time since 2011.

Despite this, in addition to opening Kentucky Proud Park, there were many memorable moments and young Wildcats that made great first impressions.

Let’s take a look back at the year it was for the 2019 Kentucky Bat Cats and hand out some hardware to some of the most deserving players.

Final Record: 26-29

SEC Record: 7-23

Non Conference Record: 19-6

What went right:

Small-Ball: After losing players such as Kole Cottam, Troy Squires, and Tristan Pompey to the 2018 MLB Draft, the Cats offense lacked power this season. However, they effectively found ways to play small-ball to score runs.

Kentucky led the SEC with 36 sacrifice bunts and finished fourth with 85 stolen bases. This allowed the Cats to manufacture runs despite not having as much power as other clubs in the SEC.

Non-Conference Play: The Cats non-conference slate was a massive success. Outside of SEC play, Kentucky went 19-6. They picked up wins over two of the Big Ten’s best teams, Indiana and Michigan, dominated in-state competition by winning two games over Western Kentucky, one over Northern Kentucky, and one over Eastern Kentucky, and swept three-game sets from Austin Peay, Canisius College, and Middle Tennessee.

While the results weren’t the same in conference play, Kentucky proved that they could beat teams they were supposed to and that they have the potential to start seeing those results translate in conference play next season.

What went wrong:

Pitching: Outside of Zack Thompson, it was a rough year to be a Kentucky Wildcat pitcher. The team lost several of their top arms in both the starting rotation and bullpen from 2018. Thus Mingione had to count on several youngsters to get outs.

As expected, Kentucky struggled to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard. The Cats finished 12th, only ahead of Florida and South Carolina, with a 5.10 team ERA. Opposing hitters batted .257 against Kentucky pitching, which ranked 10th in the SEC. Kentucky also allowed the most runs of any team in the conference with 344.

Conference Play: It was a long SEC season for the Wildcats. The Wildcats finished tied with Alabama for a league-worst 7-23 conference record, which led them to miss the conference tournament by one game.

The Cats were only able to secure one series win in conference play, which came over Ole Miss when the club took two out of three from the Rebels in Oxford. In conference play, the Wildcats were swept by LSU, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt as they struggled to navigate through the loaded SEC.


Newcomer of the Year: Cole Daniels

There were several freshman and transfers that one can make a case to win this honor, but it’s hard to say any newcomer was better than relief pitcher Cole Daniels.

In a year where Kentucky’s bullpen struggled mightily, Daniels was one arm that Nick Mingione could almost always count on.

In 28 appearances, Daniels pitched to a 2.57 ERA and only allowed nine hits all season, which held batters to a low .188 batting average against him. With an impressive freshman season, Daniels has set himself up to be the piece Kentucky builds their bullpen around next season, and he could be an arm MLB scouts take a closer look at in 2020.

Honorable Mention: Austin Schultz

A second freshman that stepped up big for the Wildcats in 2019 was infielder Austin Schultz. The freshman from Nebraska started 40 games for the Wildcats and appeared in 44.

He batted a solid .265 with a .409 OBP that finished third best on the team. Schultz proved he could be a force in the middle infield for the Cats going forward as he was among the most reliable bats in the Wildcats lineup.

Pitcher of the Year: Zack Thompson

It doesn’t get easier than this award. Thompson ranked among the best pitchers in the nation as he finished his junior season with an outstanding 130 strikeouts in 90 innings pitched.

Thompson posted a solid 2.40 ERA and held batters to a .184 batting average in 14 starts. We will dig more into Thompson a little later as he’ll have more hardware to take home.

Honorable Mention: Mason Hazlewood

Though no one was better than Thompson, another Kentucky pitcher who put together a solid 2019 was sophomore Mason Hazlewood.

The left-hander held batters to a .190 batting average as he posted an ERA of 3.92 in nine starts and four relief appearances. Hazlewood began the year as a weekday starter, but as the season went on he began making weekend starts in conference play as he developed into one of the more reliable pitchers on the Kentucky roster.

Hazelwood vs NKU

Mason Hazelwood made his first career start yesterday and immediately put himself in prime position for SEC Pitcher of the Week consideration: 6.0 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K Retired first 16 hitters he faced. First Cat with 10 K's since Justin Lewis last April. #WeAreUK

Posted by Kentucky Baseball on Thursday, February 28, 2019

Offensive Player of the Year: Ryan Shinn

One of just four seniors on the 2019 roster, Ryan Shinn saved his best baseball for his final season in Kentucky blue. Shinn led the Wildcats in several offense categories. These included 13 home runs, 17 doubles, 57 hits, and 49 runs scored.

In addition to leading the team in those categories, Shinn bated a respectable .286 and came up clutch on multiple occasions throughout the season. The Cats’ offense struggled at times this season, but Shinn always seemed to find a way to put the ball in play and get the offense rolling.

Honorable Mention: Coltyn Kessler

Despite a slow start, Coltyn Kessler kept grinding, and by seasons end became one of the Cats’ best bats.

Kessler finished the season with a .297 batting average that ranked second on the team and finished second only behind Shinn with 12 doubles. With Shinn, Ryan Johnson and Alex Rodriguez all gone next season and the chance T.J. Collett doesn’t return, Kessler will be looked at to be the Cats’ top offensive player next season.

Team MVP: Zack Thompson

As promised, here’s another award for Zack Thompson. No Wildcat was more valuable than Thompson, who gave his team a chance to win every time he took the mound. Thompson lost just one decision in 2019, as he finished the year with a 6-1 record in 14 starts.

In addition, Thompson proved clutch as he tossed the only two complete games of the season, including a complete game shutout against a top-five Georgia team. Thompson is a lock to be a first-round draft pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, and for great reason. He will go down as one of the best to play baseball for the University of Kentucky.

Honorable Mention: T.J. Collett

After a breakout 2018 sophomore season, T.J. Collett again had a productive season as a junior in 2019. Collett finished second on the team with 10 home runs and led the team with 40 RBI’s.

Off the field, Collett was named to the SEC all-service team as he continued to represent the Kentucky Baseball program in the community. Collett is widely considered the heart and soul of the Kentucky Baseball team on and off the field, and hopefully for the Big Blue Nation will see Collett crushing balls out of Kentucky Proud Park as a senior in 2020.

Defensive Play of the Year: Jaren Shelby’s diving catch against Texas A&M

While the Cats may have gotten swept by the then-rated No. 18 Texas A&M Aggies, perhaps one of the best plays in program history was made against them.

In the top of the fourth inning with a 3-0 lead and Zack Thompson on the mound, outfielder Jaren Shelby refused to allow the Aggies to start a rally as he sprinted and made a full extension dive to rob Michael Helman of extra bases.

Offensive Play of the Year: Ryan Shinn’s walk-off home run

Looking for a sweep of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, the Cats needed a rally in the bottom of the ninth as they trailed 4-3 entering the final frame.

After Austin Schultz led the inning off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice fly, Ryan Shinn stepped to the plate and sent the home crowd home happy with a long two-run walk-off home run to win the ball game for the Cats, who at the time improved to 8-1 at Kentucky Proud Park.

That’s a wrap on the 2019 Kentucky Baseball season. Remember to vote for Zack Thompson for the Golden Spikes Award as he looks to join A.J. Reed as the second Wildcat to win the nation’s biggest honor for an amateur baseball player.