In the fifth University of Kentucky post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the vacant catcher position.
The departed — Catcher Marcus Nidiffer, a 2010 senior, started 43 of UK’s 56 games in 2010, batting .320 with 10 home runs, 35 RBI, 32 runs scored and a .571 slugging percentage. In his final home at-bat Nidiffer launched a grand slam to send UK to a must-have victory over LSU. Nidiffer committed just two errors on the season, though opposing base runners were successful in 79.5 percent of stolen base attempts when he was catching. Nidiffer signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Astros after not being selected in the 2010 draft and was named an Astros organizational all-star after slugging 14 home runs in his first 69 professional games. Nidiffer will likely begin 2011 with the Lexington Legends.
Returning candidates — Sophomore Luke Maile looks to take Nidiffer’s spot not only as UK’s primary catcher but also as the team’s vocal leader. In 26 games as a freshman Maile was 7-35 with three home runs, six RBI and six runs scored. He threw out just two of the ten base runners who tried to steal against him last season. Maile was the 43rd round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2009…Junior catcher Michael Williams will likely split time with Maile at catcher and first base after batting .241 with four doubles, six RBI and three runs scored in 2010. Williams was named an all-star in the New England Collegiate Baseball League this summer and was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the league by Baseball America…Redshirt junior catcher T. J. Daugherty appeared in three games for UK in 2010.
Newcomers to watch — Maile and Williams all but have the top two catching positions on the UK depth chart locked up, but the Cats did add two new catchers to the roster this season. Freshman Steven Hoagland will likely serve as a bullpen catcher for the Cats, while freshman Thomas Bernal will be used primarily as an infielder. Bernal is listed as an infielder/catcher on the roster, giving UK head coach Gary Henderson some useful late-inning flexibility.
Wildcard — Freshman catcher Micheal Thomas redshirted during the 2010 season but started 21 games for the Lexington Hustlers this summer. Thomas struggled with the bat during his time with the Hustlers, going just 14-76, so his primary role for UK in 2011 will likely be a bullpen catcher and possible defensive replacement.