Baseball Preview: Unknowns Gone, Beggs Ready for Senior Season

It wasn’t until a matchup against No. 6 Vanderbilt in May of 2015 that Kentucky right-hander Dustin Beggs knew he belonged among the elite.

Beggs, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, entered the start vs. Vandy with a sparkling 6-2 record and a 2.84 ERA as UK’s Saturday stud. But his strong performance against the eventual College World Series runner-up signaled he could beat anyone.

The native of Roswell, Ga., fanned 12 over eight strong innings in a UK win. It marked the fourth consecutive time he had worked at least eight innings in a quality start, including road outings at Arkansas and No. 5 Florida.  

“That was an eye-opening experience,” Beggs said. “It gave me confidence that I belong here and I can do this.”

It was a highlight in a strong season for a pitcher who, despite being selected in the 33rd round out of Centennial High School in 2012, opened his career in the junior college ranks at Georgia Perimeter College.

During his two-year career at GPC, Beggs excelled under the tutelage of former MLB reliever Brett Campbell, concluding in a 2014 campaign that saw him lead the nation’s junior colleges in strikeouts and land a spot at Kentucky.

“He (Brett Campbell) really took a liking to me and wanted to help develop me into a really good pitcher,” Beggs said. “Under his leadership it really helped me grow, thrive and have a good sophomore year.”

Beggs had a decision to make after his strong 2014 season. He was selected in the 17th round by the St. Louis Cardinals in the MLB Draft and ultimately declined a second offer a professional baseball to pitch at Kentucky.

He immediately stepped into the weekend rotation for the Wildcats, making three consecutive Friday-night starts – including the season lidlifter – before sliding into a successful role as the Saturday starter.

Beggs finished the year as Kentucky’s leader in wins (seven), innings (93.2), strikeouts (75) and opponent average (.234), boasting a 3.65 ERA.

Once again, Beggs had a decision to make as the Miami Marlins picked him in the 32nd round of the 2015 MLB Draft. He made the choice before ever being drafted, pledging his commitment to Kentucky and his desire to lift the 2016 Wildcats into a historic season.

“There was a lot of growth to be had,” Beggs said. “I talked with Coach Henderson and Coach (Brad) Bohannon before the draft towards the end of the season. They just had faith in me that there is room to grow to set me up to have a major-league career and not just a minor-league career. That has proven to be true that there is room for growth in me, I’ve seen that in the summer and fall as well.”

Beggs, coupled with the return of 2015 second-round pick Kyle Cody – UK’s Sunday starter in 2015 – returned the three-man weekend rotation for the Wildcats.

“This team has just incredible potential,” Beggs said. “We’ve known since August that we are going to have a really good team. We have a lot of leadership that can help us thrive and put us in position to be a team that goes to Omaha. We just need to stick to our guns, play our brand of baseball with the right mentality, we will reach our goals.”

With junior flame-thrower Zack Brown heading the rotation with a bulldog mindset on Friday, Beggs above-average command inducing weak contact on Saturdays, and Cody’s elite fastball-curveball combination on Sunday, it sets up the Wildcats with an elite rotation.

“Dustin is more of the polished, veteran,” UK senior catcher Zach Arnold detailed. “His slider and curveball mix is tough for any hitter in the country, considering he can throw them both for strikes and he can throw a really good change-up to lefties. Obviously you saw last year, the command of Beggs is the best of the staff.”

Beggs credits lessons learned and the intense work ethic of his weekend mates as instrumental in setting a tone for the pitching staff.

“The main thing Kyle and Zack have is just a desire to get better,” Beggs said. “Seeing Kyle and ZB last year and how much they have grown to now, it is just amazing. You look at them, their stuff and say, how can they get better? And then throughout the fall and intrasquads, they have just improved incredibly. Their work ethic and always wanting to get better every day, sets a really good example for the whole staff.”

An infectious personality in the clubhouse, he helps set a key example to young pitchers – the ability to control your emotions throughout the highs and lows of baseball – a strength for Beggs.

“I feel like I have a mentality that is flat-lined,” Beggs said. “Not really having emotions when things are going well or poorly, being able to use those emotions to focus on taking it one pitch at a time and allow my mentality to spread to the rest of the field as well. Pitchers set the tone because we are involved in every pitch. That is the biggest thing that separates me.”

Now a veteran weekend starter in the Southeastern Conference who has experienced the highs and lows of the nation’s best circuit, Beggs feels prepared for his final spring collegiate season.

“The biggest thing is the unknown,” Beggs said on the differences in his mindset compared to 2015. “Last year in the fall, I was a little more tentative. It has been really good this year, having confidence out there after having had some success.”

No. 25 Kentucky opens its 2016 season on Feb. 19 at Wofford in Spartanburg, S.C. The UK home opener is March 2 vs. Austin Peay at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

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For more information on UK baseball tickets, contact the Kentucky ticket office at (859) 257-1818 or visit UKathletics.com/tickets.

2016 Season Tickets:
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