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Plenty of bats to replace for UK baseball

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Nobody knows what next season will hold for head coach Gary Henderson and his team in 2011, but one thing is for certain this point with the latest blow to the team: the Kentucky baseball team is going to lock a heck of a lot different - for better or worse.

MLB.com announced Tuesday that junior outfielder/first baseman Lance Ray had officially signed a major-league deal with the Minnesota Twins, effectively ending his collegiate career at UK. Ray, an eighth-round selection by the Twins, was by far UK's best hitter down the stretch.

Ray finished the season with a team-high batting average of .356 in addition to 11 doubles, 10 home runs, 34 RBI and a team-high slugging percentage of .720 in just 41 games and 29 starts. After getting off to a slow start to begin his UK career - Ray transferred to Kentucky as a junior after two years at Western Nevada College - the sweet-swinging Ray knocked the cover off the ball, going 36-for-85 during the second half of the season with 30 RBI and seven home runs, including a three-run walk-off home run against defending national champion LSU to vault UK back into postseason consideration.

The scorching end to the season was enough to plant dreams of a spectacular senior season for UK baseball enthusiasts. At the same time, Ray was so good down the stretch that MLB teams took notice of him and made a wise choice to select him early in the draft.

It was a catch-22 that ended up hurting the Cats for next season.

With Ray gone, UK will be in major search of an offensive identity. The Cats will have to replace their top five hitters from the 2010 season. The leading returners will be outfielder Chad Wright (.316, 37 RBI and 36 runs) and first baseman/pitcher Braden Kapteyn (.294, six home runs and 28 RBI). Kentucky is also awaiting to hear word on shortstop Taylor Black (.270, 11 home runs and 37 RBI), who is still deciding on whether or not to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Those are certainly three players that you can build an offense around, but with a pitching-heavy signing class on its way in, a number of unproven reserves from this season will have to step up and play huge roles next year.

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