Experienced, physical Arnold ready for challenge
NOTE: The third of a 16-part series of individual feature stories, leading up for No. 25 Kentucky’s 2016 season opener at Wofford on Feb. 19. Monday, learn about senior catcher Zach Arnold.
For the vast majority of catching prospects, there is no supplement for experience.
Tools and player makeup are obvious keys to success, but often times a catcher doesn’t fully come into their own until they have the experience of playing high-level competition.
That career trajectory is no different for Kentucky senior backstop Zach Arnold.
A former star at Franklin County High School, Arnold was a drafted in 2012 by the New York Mets, before electing to continue his baseball career 30 minutes east in Lexington.
He arrived at Kentucky knowing that he had a major focus in his development, adding strength to his projectable 6-foot-2, 165 pound frame.
Arnold has accomplished that mission, adding 25 pounds over his career, and combined with the experience he has gained over the previous three years under Coach Gary Henderson’s guidance, is poised for a strong senior season.
“(Adding strength) has been a real big part of it, just from the standpoint of having that kind of wear on your body when you are that small and in the catching position, you need to be a big target,” Arnold said. “I am still a tall catcher, but putting on the weight has helped me with my swing and it has also helped me oddly better at blocking. When I was younger, it was not that much of a wall. Now I am a little bit wider, bigger and seem to be blocking the ball a little bit better. I love working out. Getting in the weight room is a plus on a daily basis.”
Over his career, Arnold has always had a catcher with a bit more experience ahead of him on the depth chart. In 2013 and 2014, he served as the third catcher behind Greg Fettes and star Micheal Thomas.
As a sophomore in 2014, Arnold served as the primary back-up catcher to Thomas, making three starts behind the plate and showing his line-drive approach at the plate with a 13-for-24 showing. His highlight came as a pinch-hitter who beat out a walk-off single in the 13th inning of the SEC Tournament vs. Mississippi State.
A strong summer in the Northwoods League in 2014 helped set up Arnold for 2015. He was an all-star, hit .304 and had a 19-game hitting streak during the summer.
During 2015, Arnold was the back-up to Fettes, playing in 36 games with 29 starts and hitting .283 with 10 RBI and six doubles. Following the season, Fettes graduated and moved into the high school coaching ranks in his hometown of Detroit.
Now in 2016, Arnold, along with freshman Kole Cottam, and sophomore Troy Squires, will look to anchor the catching position, with the experience gained over his first three seasons key in Arnold’s approach this season.
“Going into this year, I knew it was going to be a different role,” Arnold said. “I knew I needed to be a leader, a veteran catcher for this team. I just take it day by day and bring energy and show the younger guys. I am not a super vocal guy, but I just try to lead by example out there and maybe inspire some young guys to play hard, which is the way we want to play. I need to be aggressive and set a good example.”
After serving a vital role in Henderson’s daily work with the pitching staff, and working with UK catching coordinator Keith Vorhoff, Arnold has become an extension of the coaching staff.
“By this point, I can kind of take the words out of (Henderson’s) mouth,” Arnold said. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to listen to him for four years. The real thing is to take what he has been preaching to our guys, some guys can overthink those small adjustments, so what I try to do is put my own spin on the adjustments they need to do, but also using his methods. Taking basically what he is saying and trying to make them feel more comfortable or more relaxed in accepting it and implementing the plan.”
With Beggs, Cody and Friday-night ace Zack Brown returning to the weekend rotation, it has the Wildcats poised for a big season. And no one has a better view of the dynamic stuff in that rotation than Arnold.
“Obviously you have ZB, who as far as stuff goes, his is some of the best in the country,” Arnold said. “His two-seamer at the next level is just going to be a bat breaker. You have a max effort, powerhouse guy in ZB on Friday nights. His stuff is going to be more of the ‘here it comes, get ready for it,’. Dustin is more of the polished, veteran. 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 three. Kyle is just Kyle. You are going to see 95-98 with the ability to throw a curveball. Gosh he has developed that curveball so much. It is going to be a weapon for him. With two strikes, or in any point in the count, we can go to that now, as opposed to last year when it wasn’t that sharp. He is going to be one of the best pitchers in the country.”
Arnold joins a veteran senior class that features Beggs, Cody, Dylan Dwyer, Zach Strecker, Bo Wilson and Dorian Hairston, a large number of seniors in today’s era of college baseball.
“Our senior class is very welcoming to the younger guys,” Arnold said about the leadership impact of his class. “Since we are such a close-knit group of guys, it is good that we are able to make the freshmen feel welcome, so they can make that adjustment easier. You will see that in our younger guys, they are playing comfortably and to me that is one of the biggest things on a baseball field, is to have fun while you are competing. Our senior class really does a good job of making guys feel comfortable on a baseball field.”
SEASON TICKETS NOW ON SALE
Fans can begin purchasing new season tickets and single-game tickets for the 2016 Kentucky baseball season.
For more information on UK baseball tickets, contact the Kentucky ticket office at (859) 257-1818 or visit UKathletics.com/tickets.
2016 Season Tickets:
$55 – Reserved Seating
$35 – General Admission