Braden Kapteyn Feature: More than One Way to Win

May 7, 2009

By: Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

One minute Braden Kapteyn was digging his feet in the batter's circle at Cliff Hagan Stadium staring down ace Tennessee hurler Bryan Morgado on the mound. Minutes later, Kapteyn found himself on the opposite end of the matchup, 60 feet away from the batter's circle, gassing 96 mph fastballs past the Volunteer hitters.

It's a role Kapteyn has flourished in this year as a freshman on the UK baseball team. On an average night, one can see Kapteyn play anywhere from the designated hitter to first base to the mound, often times playing multiple roles a night.

That was once again the case this weekend against Tennessee. On Friday, Kapteyn went 2-for-4 at the dish with an RBI before taking over for James Paxton in the ninth inning. The next night, the Lansing, Ill., native was back at the plate for two more at-bats before coming in for some mop-up duty in the eighth.

The two-way player didn't see the bump on Sunday, but UK didn't need him to take the ball. Kapteyn provided all the help the Wildcats needed with a tie-breaking grand slam in the fifth inning to give UK an important series win as it pursues a spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"He's willing to do whatever we need to have done," head coach Gary Henderson said. "He's a guy that looks to be successful as opposed to a guy that makes excuses at how hard it is to play first base or designated hitter or long relief or short relief, he doesn't make those excuses.

"He's just a guy that looks to be successful and tries to get better. I think those types of qualities are important in a two-way player because it's so hard to do. That's why you don't see many of them."

Two-way players are rare the higher the level you go in baseball. There are a few sprinkled throughout college baseball, but in the majors, besides a few exceptions like the Cincinnati Reds' Micah Owings, they're an extinct breed.

Before college, Kapteyn came up as more of hitter and infielder. He pitched on spot duty for his high school team, but he said he enjoyed hitting more than pitching and considered that his stronger suit.

"The pitching thing is more of just a bonus," Kapteyn said.

But it might be his biggest asset. There's no disputing Kapteyn can hit - he's batting .314 on the year with three home runs and 20 RBI, mainly in the designated hitter role - but his future may lie with his talent on the mound, although Henderson said it's way too early to tell.

Kapteyn throws mid-to-high 90 mph fastball and a changeup, but his best pitch is a nasty slider, which can be downright unhittable when it's working (just ask Louisville, who Kapteyn stifled in the first meeting).

The hard-throwing righty is 3-0 on the season with four saves in 20 appearances. His ERA is high at 6.28, but if you take out a few short, rough outings, Kapteyn's ERA is actually 3.13. More importantly, Kapteyn has become a much-needed rock in a thinly stretched bullpen.

"All you've got to do is look at how often he's pitching and where's he's pitching to see how important he is," Henderson said.

He's been getting the ball most of the time at the end of the game as the team's closer.

"Kapteyn has fulfilled that role and done a really good job doing it, especially considering the fact that he's a freshman," Henderson said. "It's very, very rare. In fact, I'm going to say it's extremely rare to watch a freshman close in college baseball."

But in a day and age when two-way players are all but gone, Kapteyn has defined the role of a rare player. It's a role few people can fulfill, Henderson said.

"The two-way part and the versatility are great, but they are secondary in terms of the importance of what he brings," the first-year skipper said. "I'm real glad that he does both and that he's good at both and I think he's going to continue to get better at both, but I think his outstanding qualities are his attitude, his approach and his work ethic. I think those are exceptional."

Without those, Kapteyn likely wouldn't last as a two-way player because of the vastly different demands that it takes to be a successful hitter and pitcher. It can be mentally taxing to be playing first base one minute, and then get the nod from Henderson to start warming up on the mound the next minute.

But Kapteyn seems to be taking it all in stride.

"I find that the game is pretty similar no matter what," Kapteyn said. "A lot of things go along mentally, so you prepare the same way. It's different in the game, but you get used to it."

Playing both ways does have its advantages though. Playing from both sides of the plate, Kapteyn can get a better feel of what the pitcher is thinking when he is hitting and vice versa.

"I feel like I know what the pitcher might be thinking a little bit more about what they're trying to do, but it doesn't make hitting any easier," Kapteyn said.

Based on what he's done so far this season, he could have fooled us.