Kendall Rogers of Rivals.com has a nice feature on UK baseball as it starts practice for the fall season.
Rogers writes on the five fall keys for UK in the second year of Gary Henderson's rein. The five keys:
1.) Learn lessons from last season
2.) Weekend starters must lead the way
3.) Build a deeper and better bullpen
4.) Meet expectations at the plate
5.) Find more power production
I think Rogers has a valid point with anyone of the five keys, but I'm going to circle my biggest factor as No. 3, building a deeper and better bullpen.
A couple of reasons why:
First off, I think UK's starting rotation is going to be loaded. I don't think people realize just how big the return of James Paxton is. The hard-throwing lefty had a 5.86 ERA for the Cats as a junior a season ago, but a chunk of that came from a few bad starts he had while he battled a nagging knee injury. If Paxton can return to his early season form from last year - when scouts were drooling behind home plate at his raw potential - he'll give the Cats arguably the best one-two starting punch in the Southeastern Conference along with highly touted sophomore Alex Meyer.
Two of Rogers' factors involve the offense, which was by all means a work in progress last season. After saying goodbye to All-American Sawyer Carroll and All-SEC player Collin Cowgill, Henderson knew his team was going to be forced into playing small ball in 2009. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't. The important thing last year was getting a bevy of young talented bats some experience at the plate. With a year under their belts, guys like Chad Wright, Chris Bisson and Braden Kapteyn are only going to get better.
That's why, I believe, the key will be with the 2010 bullpen. With an established starting rotation, the question for Henderson now becomes: Who will get the ball in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings? While UK had its inconsistencies in innings one through six last year, it was largely the bullpen that cost the Cats in critical conference games. The Cats were ravaged by injuries and inexperience, forcing many young and unproven arms into the equation. A pitching dominated recruiting class should ease the burden on the bullpen, but it's important for players like Kaptyen, Logan Darnell and Mike Kaczmarek to make the next step in their development. The return of sidewinder Nick Kennedy, who was lost for just about all of 2009 with an injury, will also be a huge boost.