Baseball Preview: Kapteyn is a Kapitalizer

Editors note: This is the second of an eight-part series, highlighting some of Kentucky's key returnees in preparation for the 2011 baseball season opener on Feb. 18 at No. 20 College of Charleston.

After the NCAA changed some rules for college baseball after the 2008 season – including putting limits on roster sizes and scholarships – coaches throughout the country started putting an emphasis on recruiting legitimate two-way players.

Welcome to Lexington, Braden Kapteyn.

A 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, Kapteyn came to UK as a key piece of the Wildcats’ school-record fourth-ranked recruiting class. A native of Lansing, Ill., Kapteyn stepped right into the UK lineup as a true freshman, passing on an offer from the San Francisco Giants as the 39th round selection in the 2008 MLB Draft.

As a freshman, Kapteyn proved his worth, both on the rubber and at the plate. He totaled 35 starts as a true freshman, batting .319 with a team-high 11 doubles, adding four homers and 27 RBI. On the bump, Kapteyn totaled a 5-0 record and a team-best four saves, striking out 42 in 32.2 innings.

After that solid freshman season, Kapteyn ventured to the New York Collegiate Baseball League for his first taste of summer baseball. Kapteyn dominated, winning NYCBL regular-season, playoff and all-star MVP honors, earning the top prospect in the circuit honors from Baseball America.

As a sophomore, Kapteyn continued to shine, batting .294 in 40 starts in the field, with six homers and 28 RBI and adding a 2-0 record and two saves in 18 games on the mound, picking up a crucial win at eventual national seed Coastal Carolina and saving a game against defending NCAA Champion, LSU.

During the summer, Kapteyn solidified himself as a potential high-round draft pick with a dominating stretch on the mound. A tremendous hitter with raw power, Kapteyn’s summer may have solidified his professional future on the mound, as he displayed dominance as a reliever. In 15 relief outings for the Harwich Mariners, Kapteyn totaled a 3-1 record and a 0.64 ERA, totaling one save in 28.2 innings, striking out 29 and walking 11.

“It was a great experience, I had a lot of fun up there,” Kapteyn said. “Got to experience something I hadn’t done in a long time, which was just pitch. That was different. I had a couple of at bats at the beginning of the summer but then I strictly pitched for the rest of the year. I was able to focus on pitching and I noticed that I really improved after pitching in the Cape. Overall, it was a great experience to play against the best players in the country.”

Most impressively during the summer, Kapteyn was nearly impossible to get a hit off, as he didn’t allow a hit in his first 7.1 innings on the mound and allowing only nine hits during the summer. Kapteyn joined fellow junior Chad Wright in the prestigious Cape Cod League summer all-star game.

“Braden really improved his ability to throw strikes during the summer,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “He improved on his ability to command a second pitch. It was a really good summer for him and his confidence level. Anytime you go play in a prominent college league and have success I think it does wonders for your confidence level. We are looking for him to come back here and build upon that experience.”

“I developed a style that was my own,” Kapteyn said. “I had a general attack up there. Granted they were using wood bats and we use aluminum, but it showed me what I can do and what I need to do to be successful. Whether it is just total fastballs or really establishing my slider, which is really important. I was able to do that and I was pretty tough to hit.”

In the fall, Kapteyn kept up his momentum on the mound, solidifying a role as a late-inning relief weapon. With such versatility, one would expect Kapteyn to be used in a variety of roles in 2011, giving Henderson a tremendous two-way weapon.

“I feel really good about our team,” Kapteyn said. “This is the best pitching staff I have been on. There are going to be some new guys who step into some roles. Pretty much anyone that could come in I have confidence that they can get the job done. That is an exciting thing to have. That depth is going to save some arms, the more arms we have the better. It will help later in the season as we get into the postseason.”

Kapteyn, combined with veteran relievers Nick Kennedy and Mike Kaczmarek, UK will boast one of the top late-inning relief tandems in the SEC in 2011.

“I feel like us three at the end of the game, I don’t think there are three better pitchers at the end of the game in the nation, at least to me,” Kapteyn said. “I am pretty confident in what we have back there.”