October 19, 2009
Kentucky can't wait for year two of the Gary Henderson era.
The Wildcats saw former coach John Cohen leave for Mississippi State well before last season. Henderson, who deserved it, was then promoted to head coach.
Though the 'Cats entered last season with high hopes, the season was a disappointment. They compiled a dismal 12-18 record in the SEC and also had a 28-26 overall record.
The Wildcats hope to move forward with better results in 2010.
They welcome back a solid weekend rotation with James Paxton and Alex Meyer leading the way. They also return an experienced lineup that had respectable numbers in '09.
It's time to dissect the Wildcats and what they need to do to take a step forward in '10.
Kentucky's five fall keys
1. Learn lessons from last season -- The Wildcats expected some big things entering last season. They certainly expected a regional berth. But instead of accomplishing that goal, UK finished the year with a dismal record and no postseason appearance. That might've been alarming to some, but coach Gary Henderson will be fine. Sure, Henderson spent time coaching with Cohen during his days in Lexington, Ky. However, that doesn't mean that Cohen and Henderson play by the same philosophies. It's obvious there was some sort of disconnect last season. But now it's time for UK to build off the lessons learned in '09. It's a new team and campaign.
2. Weekend starters must lead the way -- The Wildcats still have a few holes to fill between now and the spring, but the weekend rotation appears to be in good shape. UK returns James Paxton and Alex Meyer, two of the more talented arms in the SEC. Paxton surprised everyone by returning for his senior year. Meyer, meanwhile, was one of the nation's top freshmen last season and hopes to have an even better sophomore campaign. Paxton started 13 games last season and had a 5.86 ERA in 78 1/3 innings. Meyer started 11 games and had a 5.73 ERA in 59 2/3 innings. Paxton and Meyer were inconsistent at times last season, but that can't be an issue in the spring. They must establish consistency.
3. Build a deeper and better bullpen -- The Wildcats lacked elite arms in the bullpen last season and it cost them dearly throughout the spring. Now UK hopes to take a huge step forward in terms of bullpen quality and depth. That starts with better campaigns from Logan Darnell, Braden Kapteyn and Mike Kaczmarek. Darnell had a decent '09 campaign. He made 28 appearances and had a 4.50 ERA in 46 innings. Opponents hit him at a .285 clip. Kapteyn made 23 appearances and had a 6.06 ERA in 32 2/3 innings and Kaczmarek made 12 appearances and had a 5.11 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. There's no question some newcomers will assume important roles in the spring. But the returnees must elevate their level of play, too.
4. Meet expectations at the plate -- Outside of the weekend rotation with Paxton and Meyer leading the way, there's not a unit the Wildcats have that bests the returning offensive lineup. Sure, the Wildcats must replace Chris Wade. But they welcome back seven hitters that produced last season. Chris Bisson, Chad Wright and Braden Kapteyn are the headliners. Bisson batted .360 with two homers and 52 RBIs last season, Wright batted .343 with four homers and 23 RBIs and Kapteyn batted .319 with four homers and 27 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Marcus Nidiffer, who hit 10 homers and knocked in 32 runs last season. There's a good chance UK has one of the SEC's better offenses.
5. Find more power production -- The Wildcats will have a solid offense in the spring, but they could improve in the power department. UK finished last season with 56 homers, which ranked 108th in the nation next to SEC foes Vanderbilt and Mississippi. Nidiffer is the only returning hitter that finished last season with double digit homers. UK needs a couple guys to step up in this department to take a step forward in the spring. Perhaps Gunner Glad, who slapped nine homers last season, can increase his power production. It'll be interesting to see who emerges in this department.