Baseball Preview: Part 5-of-5 -- The Bullpen

Feb. 18, 2009

Part 1-of-5 -- Infield | Part 2-of-5 -- Outfield | Part 3-of-5 -- Catchers/Schedule | Part 4-of-5 -- Starting Pitching

The Kentucky baseball bullpen preview is part five of a five-part series that UKathletics.com and Cat Scratches will run before Kentucky’s season opener Friday against Troy in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Thursday’s feature takes a look at the bullpen. UK will open its 105th season Friday at 1 p.m. ET against the Trojans.

In the Pen

In 2008, the Kentucky baseball team was boosted by a bullpen that contained a trio of veteran relievers who exited their careers in prolific fashion. Gone are Andrew Albers, Brock Baber and Aaron Lovett, but not gone is a rock-solid bullpen, consisting of several high-caliber arms.

Attempting to step into a vital bullpen role will be a host of players, including right-hander Nick Kennedy, lefty Logan Darnell, juniors Tyler Henry, Duran Ferguson and Clint Tilford, freshmen Alex Meyer, Braden Kapteyn, Chase Greene and Sean Bouthilette.

Darnell, who is also a candidate for the No. 3 starting role, will be a fixture on the staff, whether as a legitimate late-inning reliever or starter. Named the best prospect in the New York Collegiate Baseball League after a dominating summer, Darnell has the potential to be one of the top arms in the SEC.

“Logan Darnell showed some real glimpses of being a front-line SEC pitcher,” Henderson said. “He had a typical freshman year in this league in terms of up and down a little bit. We are very impressed with how he ended the season, he had a great summer and an outstanding fall. We expect him to pitch on the weekends, whether that is starting or relieving we don’t know, but he is going to pitch on the weekends.”

UK needs to replace its five-year fixture in Baber, whose submarine style was critical to the Wildcat bullpen success. Kennedy, a fellow submarine righty, will follow in Baber’s footsteps after transferring from East Los Angeles College. During junior college in 2007, Kennedy was 8-1 with five saves and 2.00 ERA. The righty struck out 48 while only walking 18 batters, possessing an excellent slider in his pitch repertoire.

“We are really pleased that Nick is with us,” Henderson said. “After the success that we have had with Brock Baber and Dewayne Oxford here the last few years, we were very interested in having another submarine reliever and he had a very good fall and we expect him to be a key part of our pitching staff this year.”

Kapteyn, a two-way player, Greene and Bouthilette will have critical roles as true freshmen. Kapteyn was a Louisville Slugger High School All-American that was also named all-state and all-conference. On the mound, the Lansing, Ill., native earned an 8-2 record posting a 0.99 ERA while striking out 93 in 56 innings. Bouthilette, another Kentucky native was considered one of the top right-handed pitchers in the state coming out of high school. As a senior, he posted a 1.07 ERA and an 8-2 record striking out 84 in just 65.1 innings.
 
“Braden Kapteyn had a very good fall,” Henderson said. “We are really impressed with his poise and command and we look for him to be a significant contributor early. Chase Greene is making the transition from high school position player to college pitcher and has done a very good job developing command and off speed pitches. And, Sean Bouthilette had a very good fall.”

Henry, Kaczmarek and Tilford are each coming off the best summer performances of their respective careers and will look to solidify a role on the staff. Henry was considered one of the top freshmen before the 2007 season by Baseball America. He played well in the Alaska Collegiate League this summer working 51.1 innings earning a 3-2 record with a 2.28 ERA. Last year with the Wildcats, the Chattanooga, Tenn., native went 2-0, striking out 20 batters in 24.2 innings.

Kaczmarek, a sophomore lefty, had a great summer playing with the New York Collegiate Baseball League. In 25.2 innings, the Orland Park, Ill., native struck out 29 posting a 2-1 record. Junior right-hander Tilford, was the mid week non-conference starter for the Wildcats last year. He finished the season with a 3-0 record in 41.0 innings and 29 strikeouts. This summer he played with teammates Chris Wade and Troy Frazier in the Northwoods League, earning a 3-0 record and a 2.97 ERA.

“We expect Tyler Henry to pitch on the weekend and we have been impressed with his growth on and off the field,” Henderson said. “Clint Tilford will be a key component to this year’s staff, whether he is starting or relieving, he will be vital to our success and Mike really had some moments as a true freshman last year and we will rely heavily on him either as a starter or a key late-inning reliever on the weekends.”

Finally, Ferguson and Meyer could all play important roles in the bullpen for the Wildcats this season. Ferguson, a 6-foot-2, redshirt junior sat out last season due to injury. In 2007, the Blountville, Tenn., native appeared in 21 games with five starts, posting a 2-1 record and striking out 51.

Meyer, considered one of the best freshmen in America, could see time as a starter or out of the pen in 2008. The Greensburg, Ind., native was an Aflac and Louisville Slugger High School All-American, before being tabbed the No. 2 freshmen in the nation and the best in the SEC by Baseball America. In high school, the 6-foot-8, 205-pounder, posted a 0.95 ERA with an 8-0 record, striking out 108 while only walking 30.