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Baseball Season Previews: Barrett enters encore with different mindset

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Outfielder Kyle Barrett led UK in hitting as a freshman, batting .349 en route to All-SEC Freshman Team honors. (Photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Outfielder Kyle Barrett led UK in hitting as a freshman, batting .349 en route to All-SEC Freshman Team honors. (Photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
This is the third of a 10-part season preview leading up to Kentucky's season opener with No. 1 Virginia on Feb. 14 in Wilmington, N.C. Part one (A.J. Reed), part two (Matt Reida).

When Kentucky outfielder Kyle Barrett arrived in Lexington for his freshman season, there was not a huge expectation for the native of Douglasville, Ga., to make an instant impact.

Fairly lightly recruited out of Chapel Hill High School, Barrett fought his way into the UK lineup in 2013 and finished the year leading the Wildcats in hitting and earning a spot on the All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team.

"Last year, being a new guy to the team, in my mind I had a lot of things I wanted to accomplish but I wasn't looked on as someone who needed to produce coming in," Barrett said.

Overall, Barrett finished the year pacing the club with a .349 average, playing in 46 of UK's 55 games with 38 starts. He clubbed four doubles and one triple, driving in 14 runs and stealing four bases. In SEC action, Barrett hit .333 with starts in 27 of 30 games, driving in eight runs.

It was a tremendous breakout season for the speedy 5-foot-11, 180-pound left-handed hitter.

But it didn't happen overnight, as in Barrett's first taste of collegiate action, a blowout win over Niagara on a bitterly cold afternoon in Spartanburg, S.C., he dropped a fly ball hit to him in leftfield, his first defensive chance. In his first collegiate plate appearance, Barrett hung a sacrifice fly, with his next three appearances coming as a run-scoring pinch runner, showing a first glimpse of his game-changing speed.

He then earned his first career start in UK's second home game of the campaign, going 1-for-4 with his first career hit and stolen base. After coming off the bench in his next three games, Barrett emerged as a legitimate lineup force with a start in rightfield in the series rubber match vs. Michigan State. He smacked a one-out double that started UK's game-winning rally in the fifth inning of a scoreless game.

"After the Michigan State series, right then and there I knew that I could play here," Barrett said.

Over the course of the next 10 weeks, Barrett became an everyday starter in rightfield, starting as a left-handed weapon at the bottom of the order. After coming off the bench in the SEC opener at Florida, Barrett started the next 21 games before suffering a minor injury in an extra-inning loss at No. 14 South Carolina.

His skill set was readily apparent: an electric runner who knows the type of hitter he is, a line-drive, opposite-field weapon. He collected 15 multi-hit outings over his next 37 games, including three three-hit performances. His 16-game-hitting streak was a season-long for the Wildcats, with its new freshman sparkplug batting a blistering .394 during the stretch, smacking 26 hits - all singles.

In an April 9 win over Austin Peay, UK head coach Gary Henderson inserted Barrett into the leadoff spot in the order, seeking to find a run-producing role for All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino, UK's former leadoff dynamo. Barrett took to the role, hitting .360 with a .414 on-base percentage, as UK's leadoff hitter for the remainder of the year.

Following the season, Barrett traveled to play for the Amsterdam Mohawks in the recently re-named Perfect Game Collegiate League. He continued to hit, earning all-star honors after hitting .343 in 38 games, stealing 18 bases and owning a 16-13 walk-strikeout ratio.

"I had a good time up there in Amsterdam," Barrett said. "Coach Griff (Keith Griffin) has been there a while and won some national championships. It was great because my weakness last year was that I couldn't bunt very well. He taught me how to bunt. The atmosphere in Amsterdam is very serious because those people live for summer baseball."

He teamed with his UK brethren, southpaw Dylan Dwyer on the Mohawks, along with UK staff member Mike Brown, a former Wildcat great.

"Brownie was a huge energy guy for us," Barrett said. "In summer ball it is very easy to go through the motions. Some days you may not want to be there because you are playing every single day. But Brownie made sure to keep up in line."

Also on the eventual league champion Mohawks was lefty Matt Snyder, who at the time was headed to Temple. After the Owls announced cutting the program, Snyder was able to transfer immediately without penalty in January to Lexington to join his former Mohawks teammates, Barrett and Dwyer.

After the summer, Barrett was tabbed as the third-best prospect in the Perfect Game League by Baseball America.

Now a seasoned sophomore, Barrett enters 2014 with a whole different level of expectations as a returning starter with a knack for slashing singles.

With a roster full of returning starters and a weekend rotation that will help anchor a pitching staff, Barrett enters the season with great excitement and enthusiasm to help pace UK back to the NCAA Tournament.

"This group of guys is different," Barrett said. "Last year we had a lot of guys with talent but this year's team is a lot more mature. Everyone works a lot harder. People want to be in the cages in our off days. People always want to hit. The effort level and the desire to win are there."



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