Alex Meyer ranked among top 2011 draft prospects; Corey Hart takes BP; UofL, WKU in latest NCAA tourney projection

College Baseball, Major League Baseball

Corey Hart; Photo by Steve Paluch via Flickr

Latest links from around Kentucky baseball:

  • In the magazine’s midseason top 50 draft prospect ranking, Baseball America ranks University of Kentucky junior right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer the No. 28 prospect in the 2011 draft.
  • Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports Bowling Green native Corey Hart took swings in the indoor batting cage without any discomfort on Tuesday and hopes to go on a minor league rehab assignment on Sunday.
  • Aaron Fitt of BA includes bot the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University in his latest NCAA tournament projections as at-large bids. He also notes the UK is one of just two teams in the Southeastern Conference without a realistic at-large shot.
  • C. L. Brown of the Courier-Journal recaps the UK 3-2 win over UofL on Tuesday, noting UofL redshirt junior outfielder Stewart Ijames said his team was “not competing enough as an offensive unit.”
  • Chip Cosby of the Lexington Herald-Leader recaps the game, quoting UK head coach Gary Henderson as saying “When you play Louisville, it’s important no matter what sport it is.
  • Former UK right-handed pitcher Joe Blanton struggled in his second start of the season for the Phillies, taking a loss after surrendering five runs on seven hits in six innings. Blanton has a 10.45 ERA on the young season.
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Former Mr. Kentucky Baseball carries UK to SEC series win

College Baseball

J. T. Riddle; UK photo by Chet White

A year ago this week University of Kentucky freshman J. T. Riddle was beginning his senior season at Western Hills High School, now he’s leading the Cats in batting while playing a new position.

Riddle led the Cats to a series win in its first Southeastern Conference series of the season versus Tennessee this weekend with five hits, one home run and five RBI. On Friday and Sunday Riddle made diving catches in right field to save extra base hits.

“J. T. Riddle is doing a lot for us right now,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said after UK’s 7-3 win Sunday. “J. T. is catching doubles and triples in right field. He’s knocking in runs.”

Through 20 games Riddle leads the Cats with a .381 batting average. On Sunday he slugged his first collegiate home run.

Riddle’s hot start to his collegiate career has even surprised him.

“I definitely didn’t expect to be where I’m at right now,” Riddle said of his .381 batting average. “I just wanted to come in and play baseball like I always have.”

Riddle has driven in 10 runs this season, scored eight times and stolen four bases all while playing right field for the first time in his life.

“He’s bringing energy to the club,” Henderson said. “He’s fun to watch, He’s inspiring his teammates.”

Riddle was named Mr. Kentucky baseball following his senior season at Western Hills and was drafted in the 35th round of the 2010 draft by the Boston Red Sox. When he arrived at UK he was expected to play shortstop and second base while occasionally pitching. What he wasn’t expected to do was become UK’s every day right fielder and play stellar defense.

“Baseball is baseball,” Riddle said. “Playing outfield is basically catch and throw it where it needs to be thrown.”

When UK lost its first two right fielders on the depth chart, redshirt senior Neiko Johnson and freshman Lucas Witt, to injury, Henderson turned to Riddle out of necessity.

“It hasn’t been bad at all,” Riddle said of the adjustment to playing outfield. “The first game I think I started I came out and made a couple of nice plays. After that I had the confidence to know I can do it.”

At UK’s preseason media day Henderson said Riddle was forcing his way into the lineup by hitting line drives throughout fall practice. Now 20 games into the season Riddle has not only hit his way into the lineup, he may be the team’s most valuable player.

BluGrass Baseball Week Three Weekend Preview

College Baseball

It’s time for the Week three weekend preview. Check out storylines to watch in a tournament-heavy slate of weekend games for Kentucky colleges:

Matchup of the week: University of Kentucky @ Rice

UK heads to Houston this weekend for the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. On Friday the Cats face No. 21 Rice and preseason national player of the year favorite Anthony Rendon. UK head coach Gary Henderson tabbed sophomore left-handed pitcher Taylor Rogers to the mound versus the Owls. Rogers doesn’t have a decision on the season but has a 3.55 ERA in 12 and two-third innings on the season. Rendon, who Baseball America ranks as the No. 1 prospect in the 2011 draft, is batting .429 with two home runs, seven RBI and 12 runs scored in 10 games.

Tournament Spotlight No. 1: Houston College Classic

Henderson and the Cats have the rare opportunity to play a weekend series at a MLB stadium in front of a national audience. National baseball writers as well a plethora of scouts will be on hand to see Rendon and UK top draft prospect Alex Meyer. Henderson decided not to send Meyer to the mound on Friday for the matchup with Rendon everyone hoped to see, but he will start versus Houston on Saturday. On Sunday sophomore right-handed pitcher Jordan Cooper will take the mound versus Utah.

Tournament Spotlight No. 2: College of Charleston Classic

Western Kentucky University will head to South Carolina for the second consecutive weekend, this time for to face No. 18 College of Charleston, New York Tech and Auburn. WKU will look to rebound from a disappointing showing at the Baseball at the Beach Tournament in Myrtle Beach, S. C., during which the team went 1-2. Head coach Chris Finwood will send sophomore ace Tanner Perkins to the mound on Friday versus College of Charleston, freshman right-handed pitcher Justin Hageman to the mound on Saturday versus New York Tech and sophomore right-handed pitcher Taylor Haydel to the mound on Sunday versus Auburn.

Tournament spotlight No. 3: University of Tennessee Tournament

Morehead State University will head south to Knoxville, Tenn., to play in the UT Tournament versus Indiana, Bradley and Tennessee. On Friday the Eagles will send redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Josh Schneider to the mound versus Indiana and Lexington native Chad Martin. PLD alum Martin is 0-0 with a 2.16 ERA in three relief appearances on the season. On Saturday Morehead St. senior right-handed pitcher Trey Smith will face Bradley, and on Sunday freshman left-handed pitcher Noah Smallwood will face Tennessee.

Tournament spotlight No. 4: Memphis Classic Tournament

Eastern Kentucky University heads to Memphis, Tenn., this weekend for a three-game appearance in the Memphis Classic. The Colonels will face Southern Illinois on Friday, Memphis on Saturday and Oral Roberts on Sunday. Expect sophomore right-handed pitcher Anthony Bazzani to get the Friday start for EKU, though head coach Jason Stein has not yet announced his weekend rotation.

Out-of-state Ky. collegians playing Ky. colleges: RHP Chad Martin (Indiana), C/OF Wes Wilson (Indiana), C Ty Downing,  SS Zach Osborne (Tennessee), RHP Casey Lucchese (College of Charleston), RHP Chase Joiner (Memphis)

Morehead St. will face a quartet of Kentucky high school alumni in the University of Tennessee Tournament in the form of Indiana catchers Wes Wilson and Ty Downing and right-handed pitcher Chad Martin and Tennessee shortstop Zach Osborne. Martin, a PLD alum, will start versus Morehead St. on Friday. Wilson, a Bryan Station alum, is batting .278 in six games, and Downing, a Greenwood alum, is batting .333 in five games. Osborne, a PRP alum, is batting .438 with three RBI and four runs scored on the season. College of Charleston closer Casey Lucchese, a PLD alum, will look for his first save of the season versus WKU. Joiner is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Henderson happy with 4-4 record after winless first weekend

College Baseball

Gary Henderson; UK Athletics photo

After the University of Kentucky returned from its opening weekend series in South Carolina last week, head coach Gary Henderson was anything but happy with his team’s performance.

The Cats finished the first weekend of the season 0-3 after surrendering 20 runs versus College of Charleston, Marshall and Miami of Ohio. But after a 3-1 win Sunday the Cats had used a 4-1 week to even their season record at 4-4.

“I think [winning the series versus Illinois-Chicago] is really important,” Henderson said following the Sunday victory. “I think what is more important than winning two out of three is playing well.”

“I think being 4-4 is a good spot considering where we were last week,” he added.

Henderson was particularly pleased with the way his pitching staff showed up during the series versus UIC.

“I think in all honesty we pitched well for 26 innings,” he said, referring to Friday’s ninth-inning blowup. “Unfortunately the one inning we didn’t, we gave the game away.”

UK sophomore right-handed pitcher Jordan Cooper was hit hard at times during his Sunday start, giving up eight hits in five and one-third innings of work. However he limited UIC to just one run in his start and worked out of jams in each of the first four innings.

“The thing about Jordan Cooper I thought today was he kept his poise,” Henderson said. “He clearly wasn’t sharp today in the strike zone. His stuff was fine. I think it was an improvement over his first outing, and I would think his next outing will be even better.”

Cooper left Sunday’s game in the sixth inning with one out and two UIC runners on base, but freshman right-handed pitcher Trevor Gott came out of the bullpen to induce a double-play to end the inning. Gott earned his first collegiate win in the game after pitching two and one-third scoreless innings.

“I was really pleased with Trevor’s performance,” Henderson said. “That’s a huge double play at that point in time.”

After usual closer Braden Kapteyn blew a save in game one of the weekend series, Henderson turned to senior left-handed pitcher Mike Kaczmarek to close out the game Sunday. Kaczmarek responded by recording the final four outs of the game while surrendering just one hit for his first career save.

After starting three games in the outfield this week, Kaczmarek returned to his normal role in the bullpen for the final two games of the weekend.

“I think [Kaczmarek] is absolutely going to be in the bullpen, but I’m not going to limit him to the ninth inning,” Henderson said. “Sometimes you can win the game in the seventh inning. He’s going to pitch when it’s important.”

Henderson noted it was difficult to manage his bullpen with both Kaczmarek and Kapteyn playing the field. Despite the 4-4 record, Henderson said he thought his team had pitched well in seven of the first eight games with just two innings in those games going the wrong way.

“It’s progress, it’s improvement,” Henderson said of UK’s recent pitching performances. “It’s something to build on.”

Opening Weekend Review: University of Kentucky

College Baseball

In our first two weekend review posts there was little wrong with UofL’s or WKU’s opening weekend performance. That trend stops now as each of the other four Kentucky teams combined to go 0-12 on the weekend. In the third post we will look at the University of Kentucky.

  • Freshmen struggle: UK head coach Gary Henderson is always quick to downplay the expectations for freshmen playing in the Southeastern Conference, but even he had to admit the Cats would need contributions from youngsters this season. It was probably too much to ask for freshmen to carry UK during their first collegiate series, but the Cats had to hope for a little more than they got this weekend. At the plate three freshmen hitters, J. T. Riddle, Matt Reida and Lucas Witt, combined to go 1-13 with seven strikeouts. On the mound two freshmen relievers, Corey Littrell and Trevor Gott, combined to go 0-2 after surrendering nine runs in four and one-third innings. On the bright side, four of those nine runs were unearned.
  • Defense comes up short for Cats: At preseason media day Henderson said the Cats’ season would depend on pitching and defense, but after the first series of the year he can’t be happy with the Cats’ defensive effort. On Saturday Marshall scored four unearned runs in the eighth inning to break open what was a 2-2 tie after a throwing error by second baseman Neiko Johnson. On Sunday Miami (Ohio) scored the go-ahead run after junior catcher Michael Williams dropped what would have been an outfield assist gunning down the go-ahead run at home plate. On the weekend UK recorded four errors, but two of them came at crucial times. The defensive lapses on Saturday and Sunday wasted two superb starts from Alex Meyer and Taylor Rogers. Meyer and Rogers combined for 20 strikeouts in 13 innings.
  • Revolving door at second base: In three games Henderson started three different players at second base: freshmen Reida and Riddle and redshirt senior Johnson. The three batters combined to go 1-9 during their time at second base. At media day Henderson said he would focus on the best defensive option at the position, so he couldn’t have been happy that both Reida and Johnson committed errors while at second base. The problems at second base could have been overlooked if UK had found any offense elsewhere. The Cats batted .181 on the weekend.

BluGrass Baseball Weekend No. 1 preview

College Baseball

We’re trying something new at BluGrass Baseball this collegiate season with a weekend preview post. You will still get the full weekend schedule later this afternoon, but for now check out a few storylines to watch for the next three days of college baseball.

Matchup of the weekendUniversity of Kentucky @ No. 20 College of Charleston

UK will waste no time in getting a chance to prove its batch of newcomers can help put 2010 behind coach Gary Henderson and his team with a matchup against a top 25 team on opening night. College of Charleston sends ace David Peterson, who was 8-3 with a 5.30 ERA in 2010, to the mound against UK sophomore right-handed pitcher Jordan Cooper, who was 4-5 with a 5.71 ERA last season. Six starters return to CofC’s lineup that ranked seventh nationally with 9.1 runs per game last season.

Newcomer to watchTyler BeersMurray State University

In somewhat of a surprise Murray St. will turn to junior-college transfer Tyler Beers in its opening day matchup at UNC Asheville. Beers is the first newcomer to get an opening day start for Murray St. since UK transfer Kalen Gibson did so in 2006. Beers was just 2-7 with a 6.12 ERA in 2010 at Mineral Area College, so he must have done something impressive during early practices with Murray St. to earn the opening start. He did strike out 55 batters and walk 20 in 64 and two-third innings pitched last season.

Home cookingWestern Kentucky University

The Hilltoppers are the only Kentucky Division I school opening at home this weekend. WKU welcomes Bowling Green State to Bowling Green, Ky., for a three-game series, and will turn to sophomore left-handed pitcher Tanner Perkins, sophomore right-handed pitcher Taylor Haydel and freshman right-handed pitcher Justin Hageman in its weekend rotation. You will have to forgive the Hilltoppers if they are a little jealous of the other Kentucky schools, which open in places like Malibu, Calif.; Charleston, S.C.; and St. Petersburg, Fla..

Tournament watchUniversity of Louisville (Big East/Big Ten Challenge)

UofL probably gets its most difficult non-conference weekend series out of the way early with the Big East/Big Ten Challenge this weekend. The Cards send sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Koch to the mound versus Michigan Friday on opening night. On Saturday UofL will send redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Justin Amlung to the mound versus Ohio State, and on Sunday UofL will send redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Mike Nastold to the mound versus Minnesota for his first start since 2009. None of the three Big Ten teams are ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason top 25, but the magazine did pick Minnesota to win the conference.

Out-of-state Ky. collegians playing Ky. collegesCasey Lucchese (CofC), Louie Helmburg (Marshall)

UK will face a pair of former Kentucky high school starts in its weekend appearance at the College of Charleston Invitational in Paul Laurence Dunbar alum Case Lucchese and West Jessamine alum Louie Helmburg. Lucchese, a senior right-handed pitcher, will serve as CofC’s closer after turning down the Chicago Cubs as the team’s 39th round pick in the 2010 draft. Helmburg, a freshman catcher, will serve as a backup for Marshall and will probably have to hope for an at-bat off the bench if he is to face his hometown team.

BluGrass Baseball preseason all-newcomer team

Uncategorized

Over the past few weeks BluGrass Baseball has been counting down the top 2011 returning Kentucky collegians. Freshmen and junior-college transfers were excluded from that list, but don’t worry the newcomers are about to get their due. Check out the preseason all-newcomer team below. The team is focused on players who are projected to receive major playing time for their respective schools.

CatcherSean HagenEastern Kentucky University

Hagen is projected to start at catcher for the Colonels. After Hagen signed with EKU out of high school, Colonels head coach Jason Stein said, “Sean will fill an immediate need at catcher following the graduation of 2010. He is a complete catcher who can catch, throw and block. But he is also a very offensive-minded player, as well.”

Honorable mention: Murray St. junior-college transfer Jacob Rhodes figures to be a mainstay in the Breds’ lineup at either catcher or designated hitter.

First Base — Tyler Beers — Murray State University

There is no clear first base candidate among the 2011 Kentucky newcomers, Beers may start for the Breds so he takes this spot almost by default. Beers batted .300 with five home runs and 25 RBI as a sophomore at Mineral Area College.

Honorable mention: UK head coach Gary Henderson said freshman infielder J. T. Riddle could see time at first base if carries his strong spring offensive performance over to the season.

Second Base — Matt Reida — University of Kentucky

Henderson hasn’t officially named a starter at second base for the Cats, but all signs point to Reida as the likely winner of that position battle. Reida may struggle with the bat early on, but as a plus defender he figures to get plenty of playing time at the position.

Honorable mention: Murray St. junior-college transfer Travis Isaak batted .420 with eight home runs and 19 doubles as a sophomore at Lincoln Trail Community College.

Shortstop — Alex Chittenden — University of Louisville

On Monday UofL head coach Dan McDonnell announced Chittenden would start at shortstop for the Cards. Chittenden batted .588 with eight home runs and 19 stolen bases as a senior in high school.

Honorable mention: Morehead St. freshman infielder Bud Morton may not start for the Eagles to begin the season, but he adds an excitement factor to the lineup the Eagles could use.

Third base — Thomas McCarthy — University of Kentucky

McCarthy comes to UK after batting over .400 for two seasons in junior-college baseball. UK head coach Gary Henderson doesn’t predict that for his third baseman this season, but Henderson said “he’s going to be able to get a hit.”

Honorable mention: EKU freshman infielder Bryan Soloman, who head coach Jason Stein called “a complete third baseman,” is projected to start for the Colonels.

Outfield — Ryan Hutchinson — Western Kentucky University

Baseball America recently ranked Hutchinson, who was an all-American at 2010 NJCAA World Series champion Iowa Western Community College, the No. 3 newcomer in the Sun Belt Conference. WKU head coach Chris Finwood expects Hutchinson to provide a middle-of-the-order power presence for the Hilltoppers this season.

Outfield — Lucas Witt — University of Kentucky

In an interview with College Baseball Daily, UK head coach Gary Henderson singled Witt out as a the freshmen outfielder who was making the best case to start in right field. Witt may not be the full-time starter to begin the season, but he figures to see plenty of playing time in 2010.

Outfield — Paul Ritzheimer — Murray State University

Ritzheimer batted .405 with three home runs and 20 RBI as a freshman at Kaskaskia College in 2010, and he should push for playing time in the Murray State outfield this season.

Honorable Mention — UK freshman infielder and outfielder Dallen Reber probably has the most power on the UK roster and will likely push for playing time in right field for the Cats.

Designated hitter — Ivan Hartle — Western Kentucky Unviersity

Junior-college trasnfer Ivan Hartle will start at second base for WKU this season and only is included at DH here to get him into the starting lineup. Hartle was named the NJCAA Division I defensive player of the year in 2010 while playing for the NJCAA World Series champion, Iowa Western Community College.

Honorable mention — UofL freshmen infielder Adam Engel will start for the Cards at designated hitter to begin the season.

Starting pitcher — Corey Littrell — University of Kentucky

Freshman left-handed pitcher Corey Littrell will be UK’s primary midweek starting pitcher to begin the season and stands to be the first option on the weekend in the event of injury or poor performance by one of UK’s top three starters. Littrell was all-state as a senior at Trinity High School and was the 43rd-round pick of the Nationals in 2010.

Starting pitcher — Justin Hageman — Western Kentucky University

WKU head coach Chris Finwood says freshman right-handed pitcher Justin Hageman, the 2010 32nd round pick of the Royals, has as much talent as any pitcher he saw on a Friday night during his time in the Southeastern Conference, but it remains to be seen what Hageman’s role will be with the Hilltoppers. He figures to begin the season as a midweek starting pitcher, but will move to the weekend rotation if he proves himself in that role.

Starting pitcher — Kyle McGrath — Eastern Kentucky University

Freshman left-handed pitcher Kyle McGrath figures to begin the season as a midweek starting pitcher for the Colonels, but you have to figure he will be given every shot to carve out a more substantial role with the team considering the Colonels’ poor pitching performance in 2010. McGrath was all-state at Butler High School.

Honorable mention — Due to the overall depth of UofL’s pitching staff, freshman right-handed pitcher Dace Kime may not start for the Cards this season but as the highest-drafted player attending a Kentucky college this season he figures to push for playing time in some role.

University of Kentucky baseball media day roundup

College Baseball

I posted the BluGrass Baseball breakdown of the University of Kentucky baseball media day last night, but several other local media outlets have also posted stories about the event. Check out a roundup of those stories below:

  • Mark Maloney of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports UK head coach Gary Henderson hopes his investment in freshmen pitching last season pays off in 2011.
  • Ethan Levine of the Kentucky Kernel reports the Bat Cats will rely on a veteran pitching staff in 2011.
  • Fred Katz of College Baseball Daily writes UK’s season depends on the success of its three weekend starting pitchers.
  • Matt May of The Cat’s Pause writes the Cats are hoping to reverse the two-year trend of falling just short of postseason play.

Other media were also present at the event and I’ll post their stories here as they become available.

A ten-spot from UK baseball media day

College Baseball

Cliff Hagan Stadium outfield; UK photo

The University of Kentucky hosted its annual baseball media day this afternoon. There was not any major breaking news at the event, but it was the first chance to talk with juniors Alex Meyer, Chad Wright and Braden Kapteyn and senior Taylor Black as well as head coach Gary Henderson this season. I’ve included 10 notes from the event below:

  • Henderson said the second base job is wide open but later admitted he would lean toward playing the strongest defensive player. While outlining the second base candidates, he made a point to emphasize freshman Matt Reida‘s defensive ability, so that probably offers a little glimpse at Henderson’s current thinking.
  • Senior shortstop Taylor Black said he seriously considered signing with the St. Louis Cardinals after being drafted in 2010. “In the end I though it was best for me to come back to the Cliff for my degree and another year,” he told BluGrass Baseball. Black is the only 2010 Cat who was drafted that elected to return to school.
  • Henderson said if the season started today junior everything man Braden Kapteyn would be the starting first baseman, but noted “somebody has to be able to play there when he’s pitching.” For now it looks like either Luke Maile or Michael Williams will be the backup first baseman when the other is catching.
  • While Reida may have a leg up in the second base battle, Henderson said freshman infielder J. T. Riddle was “kind of forcing our hand offensively.” Henderson noted Riddle keeps hitting line drives in the intrasquad games and eventually they will need to find a spot for him in the lineup if he keeps performing. Henderson even suggested Riddle might get a look at first base.
  • There was lots of talk about the new NCAA mandated bats. Each of the four players suggested that bats might even out some of the major losses on the UK offense. Henderson said he thought the complaining some other SEC coaches had done about the bats was overblown.
  • Alex Meyer confirmed a recent media report that he’s been working on a changeup this offseason. Henderson said the changeup would be especially useful the third time through the lineup when batters began to adapt to Meyer’s other two pitches.
  • Each of the three juniors spoke on the need for their class to step into the leadership roles vacated by the numerous upperclassmen who moved on to professional ball from the 2010 team.  “I feel like we have a lot of experience,” outfielder Chad Wright said of the junior class. “Coming in almost all of us have played quite a bit. With the experience we’ll be able to contribute a lot to the team.”
  • I asked Meyer about his adjustment to throwing to new catchers after mainstay Marcus Nidiffer‘s graduation, and he said Nidiffer would be missed but was confident he would quickly adjust to Maile and Williams.
  • Henderson said freshman Corey Littrell and junior Alex Phillips would be the midweek starting pitchers to begin the season. If either of them falters or an injury necessitates a change, freshmen Trevor Gott and Jonathan Paquet would be next in line for starts.
  • I asked each of the four players what this team needed to accomplish to consider the season a success. They each agreed on what that goal was, but Wright was most direct in his answer: “I definitely feel like it [the season] is not a success unless we make the postseason.”

Rockies invite Christian Friedrich to Spring Training; Ben Revere may contribute for Twins in 2011

College Baseball

Christian Friedrich; Photo by Matt McGee via Flickr

Latest links from around Kentucky baseball:

  • Thomas Harding of MLB.com reports the Colorado Rockies have given former EKU left-handed pitcher Christian Friedrich a non-roster invitation to Spring Training.
  • Kelly Thesier of MLB.com lists Lexington Catholic alum Ben Revere among the “prospects to watch” for possible contributions with the Minnesota Twins in 2011.
  • Garry Barker of The Flemingsburg Gazette has the obituary for Ewing native and former MLB veteran Woodie Fryman.
  • Brad Stephens of the College Heights Herald reports the Bowling Green Hot Rods and Western Kentucky University have discuss hosting a future Sun Belt Conference tournament or NCAA regional at Bowling Green Ballpark in addition to the two series they will host there this season.
  • I will be at the University of Kentucky‘s baseball media day this afternoon so check back later and follow us on Twitter for updates from coach Gary Henderson and a few of his players.