Editor's note: this is the fourth of a 10-part Kentucky baseball preseason feature, leading up to UK's preseason media day on Feb. 4. Ranked as high as No. 8 in the preseason, Kentucky will open up its 2013 season in Spartanburg, S.C., vs. UNC-Asheville on Feb. 15. Read part one, on UK junior righty Trevor Gott, here, part two on senior righty Walter Wijas here, and part three on shortstop Matt Reida here.A lot of factors went into Kentucky left-handed pitcher Jerad Grundy's decision to return for his senior season after the Minnesota Twins selected him in the 26th round of the 2012 MLB Draft.
The chance to get closer to his college degree and a second season to prove himself in the nation's best conference as he moved up draft boards played a factor in his decision.
But it was the opportunity to return to a talent-laden Kentucky roster in 2013 that convinced Grundy that he needed to spend the 2013 season completing his college career.
"I have a lot of pride in playing for the University of Kentucky," Grundy said. "The comradererie that we have as a team and all the talent coming back that we have this year creates a tremendous opportunity. We have a lot of wins, a lot of innings and a lot of hits coming back this year and that is huge in the SEC. When I weighed all the options and I am looking at the team we are going to have in 2013, it is hard to not want to be a part of that."
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder was picked for the third time in his career in the MLB Draft after a strong 2012 season at UK, his first year in Lexington. He opened his collegiate career in 2010 at Miami (Fla.) as one of the more highly recruited high school prospects in the nation, choosing the Hurricanes over the Wildcats.
After serving as a midweek starter and middle reliever in Miami as a freshman, Grundy transferred to Heartland Community College, where he had a solid 12-start season with a 7-3 record and 70 strikeouts in 62 innings.
After being recruited to Kentucky for a second time, Grundy had a tremendous season as the Saturday starter during a historic 2012 campaign.
He made 16 starts with a 6-3 record and a 3.78 ERA in his debut season for UK, tossing 85.2 innings, allowing 79 hits and 36 walks, striking out 63. The Wildcats posted a 12-4 record overall when Grundy took the mound as the starter.
Grundy's already good numbers were even more impressive without a four-start stretch in the middle of the year, during which he was limited to shorter outings as he refined his mechanics. Without that period, Grundy had a 6-2 record and a 2.41 ERA in 12 starts.
He found his form when it mattered the most, posting a 2.88 ERA over his final seven starts, including a breakout pair of starts in the postseason.
Grundy picked up wins over No. 21 Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and Valparaiso in an NCAA Tournament elimination game, sporting a 1.50 ERA in the two-start span.
"My game started to really get better as the season went along," Grundy said. "Coming into the postseason, and even late in the year, we weren't playing as well as we needed too. When the team started to slump like that, we need the older guys to step in and have the type of outings I did in the postseason to try and break the ice a little bit and get the team on a roll."
After the 2012 season and his selection by the Twins in the draft, Grundy ventured to the prestigious Cape Cod League, where he was one of an NCAA-leading nine UK players in either the CCBL or with the USA Collegiate National Team.
"The representation that we had in the summer in the Cape was huge for our program," Grundy said. "We had nine guys out there that were developing their games against the nation's premier competition."
Grundy was good for the Orleans Firebirds in seven games and five starts, owning a 1-2 record with a 4.45 ERA. He tossed 30.1 innings, walking only nine and allowing 27 hits, striking out 32. Grundy had a dominating start on June 24 against Wareham, tossing five one-hit innings in a shutout win.
"For me, I had a lot of fun," Grundy said about the Cape. "It was great to work on some specifics of my game and to not have quite the pressure of playing in the SEC. It is a little more laid-back in summer ball and you have the ability to sit back and make some adjustments and work on some things."
Now as one of three senior leaders on the UK roster, along with former Heartland CC teammate Zac Zellers and righty reliever Walter Wijas, Grundy will be expected to shoulder part of the leadership load for the preseason top-10 ranked Wildcats.
"Being a leader on a staff that is so talented is humbling and is a real honor," Grundy said. "As a senior, I have a lot more college games under my belt then the freshmen or the sophomores. I was an underclassman too so I know what it is like to too look up to a senior and see how they lead the team. That is why we are going to be so good this year. We have a lot of seniors and juniors that have good heads on their shoulders and work hard. They show the way to do it for the freshmen and sophomores. That is going to be great for the program when the time will come for them to be the upperclassmen on the staff."