LEXINGTON - The University of Kentucky baseball program has been tabbed as the No. 8 team in the preseason in the 2013 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper top-40 poll, its highest preseason ranking in the 117-year history of the program, it was announced on Thursday afternoon.
With the Wildcats ranked No. 8, it is their highest preseason ranking by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper in program history, a poll that dates back to 1958. UK had last been ranked in the preseason as high as No. 19 in 2009 and No. 20 in 2008 by Collegiate Baseball. UK was last ranked by Baseball America in the preseason in 2007, checking in No. 30. Conclusive preseason polls have been located back to 1999.
Kentucky is coming off the best season in the 117-year history of the program, claiming a school-record 45 wins in 2012 and owning the best finishes in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Tournaments in UK annals. The Wildcats went 45-18 in 2012 in UK’s 103rd official season of collegiate baseball, setting a bevy of records and owning 20 total wins against league foes.
After the 2012 season, UK had a school-record nine players selected in the MLB Draft, the second-most in the NCAA. UK then sent a total of nine players from its 2013 roster to the prestigious Cape Cod League or with the USA Collegiate National Team, tied for tops in the NCAA. UK’s 2013 roster also boasts the second-most drafted players in the SEC (15), behind Vanderbilt (18) and ahead of South Carolina and Florida (12).
UK returns one of the most talent-laden rosters in college baseball in 2013, including preseason All-Americans in centerfielder Austin Cousino, left-handed starting pitcher Corey Littrell and two-way standout A.J. Reed. UK returns seven of its nine starters in the field, including dynamic middle-infield duo J.T. Riddle and Matt Reida and its starting outfield of Cousino, Lucas Witt and Zac Zellers.
On the mound, Littrell and senior southpaw Jerad Grundy give UK two of its three-man SEC weekend rotation from a year ago. Reed, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound southpaw, is coming off the third-best ERA in the Cape Cod League during the summer and could give UK its second consecutive season with three left-handed pitchers in the weekend rotation. In addition, sophomore first-team summer league All-America right-hander Chandler Shepherd – a hero from UK’s NCAA Tournament run in 2012 – gives UK more experienced talent.
UK’s bullpen returns record-setting closer Trevor Gott, who shattered the school-record with nine saves in 2012 and paced the Wildcats to a staggering 40-0 record when leading after seven innings and a record 22 team saves. Gott, the 2011 Cape Cod League Reliever of the Year, saved nine of 10 games as a sophomore and will help anchor the UK bullpen, along with senior righty Walter Wijas.
Kentucky will open its 2013 season on Feb. 15 in Spartanburg, S.C., taking on UNC Asheville at Wofford. All told, UK will play 26 games in 2013 against teams ranked in the Collegiate Baseball preseason top-30 poll.