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UK baseball fall practice update

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_B6I1568.JPGIt is October, which means fall, colorful leaves, cool temperatures and playoff baseball.
 
While the Yankees and Phillies are on a collision course for the 2009 World Series, the Kentucky baseball team is in the midst of its fall practice season.
 
With the fall practice season comes position battles and an opportunity for newcomers to make their case for playing time come spring. Last year, under the direction of first-year head coach Gary Henderson, the fall was a chance for the team to get accustomed to Henderson's management style and new assistant coach and offensive guru Brian Green.
 
Now in his second season after a ninth-place finish in the rugged Southeastern Conference in 2009, Henderson leads a club that knows what it takes to compete in the SEC, and maybe more importantly, knows what he expects one a daily basis from the team.
 
Henderson welcomes in 13 newcomers for the 2010 season, the sixth-best recruiting class in college baseball, but returns eight position starters and two of its three-man weekend rotation. Included in those returnees are weekend starters James Paxton and Alex Meyer, two first-round talents that will anchor a talented, deep and young pitching staff. Paxton, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-hander, headlines the class after spurning the Blue Jays offer as the 37th overall selection in June. The Ladner, British Columbia, native was the highest drafted player in the 2009 MLB Draft to elect to return to college.
 
With several veteran returnees, Henderson can rely upon those seasoned players to help the newcomers adjust to playing baseball at the highest collegiate level.
 
"We have seen the development of our returning offensive players and the indoctrination to college baseball for a lot of young and new pitching during the spring," Henderson said. "It is important every year to have some veterans who can help lead the team, especially during the fall. You have got to have a core group of your club with an experience level and an understanding of what it takes to be successful and help impart that on the new kids."
 
There may not be a coach in college baseball that stresses the mental aspect of the game like Henderson does. Henderson, who got his master's degree from San Diego State in sports psychology, spends a good chunk of the fall getting the newcomers acclimated to the differences between high school or junior college baseball and the competition level in the SEC.
 
"It is extremely important to let them know that this is a completely different level then they have competed at in the past and what they are used to facing," Henderson said. "It is crucial to get them to understand that you have to show up on a daily basis and you have got to develop an entirely different level of mental toughness so that you can compete in the SEC."
 
Returning position starters include second baseman Chris Bisson, backstop Marcus Nidiffer, center fielder Keenan Wiley, utility man Gunner Glad, first baseman Braden Kapteyn, and sophomores Chad Wright, Andy Burns and Cory Farris. That group gives UK a veteran lineup with capable bats.
 
"The guys that have done extremely well this fall have been Bisson, Nidiffer, Wiley and Wright," Henderson said. "Those four guys have probably had the best fall and we are very excited for those guys to emerge. At the same time I have been very pleased with the development and maturation of (left-handed pitcher) Taylor Rogers, (catcher) Luke Maile and (shortstop) Taylor Black."

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