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Preseason Baseball Media Day Coverage

Junior right-hander Chandler Shepherd

Junior right-hander Chandler Shepherd

Feb. 10, 2014

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Preseason Player Features: Part one (A.J. Reed), part two (Matt Reida), part three (Kyle Barrett), part four (Kyle Cody), part five (Chandler Shepherd), part six (Thomas Bernal), part seven (Austin Cousino).

HENDERSON QUOTES

Opening statement...
"Thank you for being here. I appreciate it. I'd like to start off by congratulating Rachel (Lawson) on a fantastic weekend. She is very good at what she does. We are excited about this season. I will go about this the same way that I have in the past. I'll just go around the diamond and when we get done, whatever I didn't touch base on or whatever you all have questions on, I will answer. Anything is fair game. We're really excited about certain parts of our club. We are excited about the returning position players and the maturity they have and the experience they have. We got 11 guys that were here and 12 that are going to be with us this year. I think that is a tremendous benefit for us. The maturity of our group is at a different level than it was at any time last spring, so that's really a positive. The team culture is good to this point and obviously I'm well aware we haven't played a game yet, but I am proud of what the kids have done. That's a really good thing and it makes you feel good about our kids and work with them on a daily basis. I'll start with the pitching. It probably takes the most of my time during practice, but it seems to always generate the most questions and obviously has a huge impact on your club. We are going to have three starting pitchers that are good, if not very good on any given date. We'll be able to match up with starting pitching every weekend. We got A.J. (Reed) back for his junior year, we got Chandler Shepherd back for his junior year, and then we got Kyle Cody. Those three guys should be very, very competitive and very skilled. There will be some growth throughout the year with these three guys. They have to get better at their own specific battles. They know what those are and I have done a very good job of communicating that with them. A.J. and Shepherd have been through the league for two years. Kyle got some starts obviously last year and the weekend as well towards the end of the year. They are three very talented kids who are competitive and we are proud to run those three guys out. We have got 10 new pitchers on the staff. We've got two guys coming back that were injured last year and had surgeries. So between those 12 and the three guys who pitched in relief last year, I've got to get a new bullpen and that will be my primary job throughout the early part of the year. I got to get a bullpen developed, that's on me. That's what I do and I need to do a good job of it. Anytime you have a new group of kids, there are going to be some ups and downs in that bullpen role. We have just gone through a two-year history, Brent Ingram tells me, of having the most impressive or best numbers that they have ever had here with the bullpen for two year. We are proud of that and those kids are gone. They did a good job for us, but it's time to develop a new group of kids and that's what I'm going to have to do. We've got the two new, Zack Strecker and Dylan Dwyer. We got Ryne Combs from here in town. Those three along with the 10 new ones, I've got to find a group of five kids we can basically count on. They have got to grow into their roles, they have to be confident, aggressive, dominate the bottom of the strike zone. All of the things you need to do to be good at pitching, that's what they've got to do. That will take a little bit of time, but they will be up for the task. Moving around the diamond, at catcher, we are probably one of the very few teams in the country to have three returning catchers. We're good there. Micheal Thomas is in front. He is a fifth year senior who has done a really, really good job in a lot of areas. Leadership, developing confidence, changing his body, he's stronger, understanding the game at a much higher level than he did a couple years ago, a true belief in himself, able to communicate on different levels throughout the spectrum of the pitching staff personalities. Micheal is much improved. Greg Fettes and Zach Arnold are in a daily battle for that second spot. They are both going to be good enough to where we can use them. Why would you use three catchers? Well, you never know when somebody's going to take a foul ball off the thumb, pitching matchups, pinch-hitting matchups, base running. None of those three are near the fastest runners that we have. If you got yourself in a position where you need to run, we have a very capable back up, and that's a really good thing. So that's where we are at catching. It will be better than it was last year. They are all older and stronger. Our throwing to second base has improved. It should be a very secure position for us. Max Kuhn will be at third base. This will be Max's third year, a tremendous growth over the summer and the fall. Really a much more comfortable player, a more confident player. He's grown into a player that our kids look up to, especially the younger kids on the infield. He finished the fall on fire at the plate offensively wearing out the right center gap. A much more mature approach to competition and hitting. He's done a good job. Max has improved his body, he's stronger, and we are really, really glad we have Max. Matt Reida will be the shortstop. It will be Matt's fourth year with us. He's going to proved infield leadership. He does a really, really good job defensively. A much different body than he had in the past. A real commitment to the weight room, which has been impressive and I think it's had a really positive impact on our club. Matt's a smart player, good player. I think he is going to have a much better year offensively. I think the strength and maturity, as well as another year in our league and knowing what to expect is going to help Matt. We're open at second base. Connor Heady and JaVon Shelby are the two guys battling it out there. Both are really talented players. They are going to be really, really good players by the time they leave UK. A little bit different style player, but both of them very confident, very athletic. They both run well, they both have well above average arm strength, they are both freshmen, so that will bring the challenges that come with any freshmen. Those are the two guys that are in front for the battle at second base and we are excited to have those two guys with us. The two guys that are going to be at first base, most of the time if we can keep Thomas Bernal healthy, it will be Thomas and A.J. Reed. Obviously Greg and Michael Thomas have played a little bit of first base last year, so those two guys can spell at first base as well. First base is going to be an important position for us when we have A.J. is pitching because we have got to get some right handed production over there. We should be very good as a club hitting from the left side. We have very talented kids. One of our battles early on is going to be to develop some right-handed hitters. We need guys that we can count on, that can give us quality at bats. Thomas is a guy who has absolutely changed his body, and again it's his fourth year here. He's a leader on our team. Kids respect him for the type of work ethic that he has and the type of person he is. He is bright, he's tough, and he's swinging his bat at a different level, so obviously that is very encouraging to me and to us, and the kids notice. Those are the infield positions. We should be somewhere between above average and outstanding in the outfield, we really should. We have talented kids. We've got competitive kids who will be able to run. We lead the country in left handed hitting outfielders. You can only play three at a time, so the fact that we have six might not be much of a benefit, but if you could play six we could do it. We have good players out there. Austin Cousino will be back for his third year in centerfield. Kyle Barrett will be in the outfield as well. We've got a pretty good battle going on for that third spot and when we face an above average left handed slider, it would be nice to put a right handed bat out there. For us, right now the two candidates are Dorian Hairston and JaVon Shelby, moving in from second base. Those two guys are going to have to battle it out for that right handed hitting spot out there. For the left handed hitting spot, Ka'ai Tom has done a very good job, Marcus Carson has done a good job, Storm Wilson has done a good job, and Bryce Bastien is another left handed hitting candidate. There're six of them. That's the outfield we are going to run positionally. We've got good runners. A.J. is not a good runner, but the rest of them run pretty good. On that topic, one of the things that has been a real bright spot for us has been the fact that A.J. has a different body than he had last year. He took it upon himself to lose 20 pounds. It's helped him at the plate and is going to help him immensely at the mound. I think it's helped our team. I think any time a college kid makes a commitment like that and changes how he goes about his business, I think it's a really positive thing. I think everybody appreciates it. I think everybody respects it and appreciates it and I think we are going to benefit by the fact that A.J. has taken his physical condition to a new level. Overall, our bodies have changed dramatically. Sometimes you wonder why you can't do that every year, but the bottom line is you can't force effort in the weight room. You can force them to get in there, you can make them do the lifts, but the intensity and commitment they take, the personal pride that they have for themselves and each other is something that you try to influence in a positive way all the time from the coaching staff. This group has really taken it upon themselves. We've got some bodies that some fans are going to look at and say, `Wow, is that really him out there?' We've got three or four of them that are much, much different. Older kids too, not just sophomores. That's really a positive thing and I am proud of our kids for what they have done and I know our coaching staff is as well."

On having a lot of junior college transfers on the squad...
"We have had tremendous success here junior college wise. If you have been a follower of our program, we have probably had more success with junior college players than anyone in the league I think over the past decade. It's been kind of phenomenal really. So that's the thinking. Any time that you go get guys in the spring, junior college kids, that's because you either planned for it or a freshman didn't work out, and we had both. That's the reality of it. We had a couple guys here last year as freshmen that we though were going to be able to do it and they were not able to do it. So you go and you fill those spots. The two kids on the pitching staff right now are extremely hard workers. They are still in that adjustment period in the same exact place that Sawyer Carroll was as a junior. Exactly the same are Matt Robinson or Alex Phillips. It's phenomenal how that cycle repeats itself, but that's where they are and they are going to end up being very good and guys that we can count on. Right now they are making their way. The transition for the junior college kids sometimes is exactly like it is for the freshmen. They've got to make their way. They got to learn to believe that they can do it. They are plenty skilled enough, there's no question about that, but they have to get past the belief issue and get comfortable and all the rest. Those two guys are going to help though. (Dominic) D'Souza has been hurt. Tyler Tipton has been hurt. Bryce Bastien was here in school last year and has done a good job. Matt Snyder from Temple. Matt is going to help us on the mound. Anyway, that's a solid group of kids. We have done a really good job here of getting smart, tough junior college kids, so hopefully I can say that same about those two guys in a two years."

On how the weather conditions have presented a challenge in preparing for the season...
"Well, we don't talk about the weather. Does it present some challenge? Yea it does. It doesn't really make any difference. It is what it is. We have what we have. We haven't been outside. This is certainly my worst winter of 11. We've had similar winters before and what I know from that experience is it takes you a week or two longer to get it going. Baseball is a game that you have to play. You can drill it, you can cage it, you can throw in the bullpens all you want, but you've got to play the game. Until we get those repetitions under our belt and we get that experience you'll expect that maybe the game is not quite as crisp in weeks one and two as you'd like, but you'll grow from it. I think the kids know that and as long as our hearts in the right spot and the work ethic stays the same and we are constantly proving our ability to concentrate and play the game a pitch at a time and really have a true commitment to competitive at bats, I think we'll be fine. The thing that you are going to constantly battle early on when you haven't had the field time is giving away extra bases. You are not quite as sharp defensively as you'd like. You can hit all the ground balls you want inside Nutter and it's not the same as a live ball coming off the bat, so you know that for your infielders. The running game is something we work extremely hard on here, but still that's a transitional piece from practice to the games that the pitchers you have got to become comfortable then aggressive with. Then that confrontation you have between the pitcher and the hitter is something that is not the same in practice than in a game. I think our kids know that. The game will get cleaner as the spring goes on. I tell our guys all the time, and I think they believe me, that the game changes between week two and week three of SEC play. It just does. It gets better. I think you see the same thing in the preseason. Hopefully we get to play all the preseason games and don't get rained out and have to reschedule. If we do that, by the time we get to Tuscaloosa, we should be ready to go."

On Chandler Shepherd and what role he could fill ...
"Chandler is going to be a starting pitcher. College baseball provides the opportunity to do different things based upon our schedule; you don't play six games a week. Moving into it I would expect him to be an extremely effective starting pitching for us, at a high level, for 14 weeks in the regular season and then on into postseason. That is what I would expect. In college baseball, at times, you can use those guys to pick up an inning or two on a Tuesday or something like that. I haven't sat down with all three of those guys and talked about that. A.J. pitched in relief as a freshman. Chandler has pitched in relief, and started, for two years. They will be flexible. They are smart. They are tough. But Chandler is going to be a starting weekend pitcher."

On what he envisions for the bullpen structure ...  
"We have 10 new guys on the mound and the three returning guys. It is not in concrete. Do I have ideas, well sure. You have things you think are going to work. We have a couple of guys with really good arms that are making progress. But until you put them in a game, some guys get in a game and they are actually a little better, and some guys get in the game and it takes them a few outings to not shy away and be really aggressive. We have some options. We have enough breaking ball. We have enough change up. We have enough left and right. And if I can get them to grow up, if they can get them to grow up, and they like to compete, if I can get that piece in place, or we can get that piece in place we are going to be fine. But I don't know what those are going to be. It is new. It is kind of like developing the foundation for it in 2011. It got better in 2011 but it didn't get really good until 2012. And they last two years it has been great. And it takes a little bit of time to develop those things. We have some options. If I can get enough guys that really enjoy competing and attack the bottom of the strike zone we will be fine. And we have enough pieces to put that together."

On the importance of strong play from the catcher position ...
"Well average catching is going to turn good pitching into average pitching. Good catching has a chance to turn average pitching into above average pitching, I don't think you are ever going to make it great. Having a guy back there that is going to communicate, calm down, motivate, direct, non-verbal communication. I think all of that is really important, in fact I know it is. So to have Micheal back there and the other two guys that are working on that stuff, diligently, has a chance to be a strength of our club. No question in my mind that Micheal Thomas has a chance to be a strength of our club, and the position does. The thing you have to get kids to understand when they come to college is that the game is so much more cerebral and so much more about communication then just catch it and throw it. Our guys are receptive. Their aptitude, their instincts are solid. It has a chance to be a strength of ours."

On how A.J. Reed and Kyle Cody can help lead some youthful relievers ...
"The thing about a collegiate baseball team, one of them, is you are judged by the presence of those three weekend guys. You just are. It is really important to be good at catcher. It is really important to be good up the middle. It is really important to be good in centerfield. But your team goes to battle with that guy on the mound. I don't know that Kyle Cody is going to provide a lot to a new relief pitcher other than to show him and demonstrate what it looks like to stand out on the mound and compete. And not just compete when we are up by six. It is really important those guys learn how to compete in the third inning when we are down a run. The biggest thing that the starting pitchers can do, those two guys, is provide leadership role in how they go about their business, their mound presence, their reaction when things don't go their way. How they respond when we have to get four outs in an inning. How they respond when an umpire clearly misses strike three and now the count is 2-2 instead of an out. Then you get into the personalities of the kids. And A.J. is a much different person then Kyle, but he is going to provide more of that but he has been here longer and had more success.  Those guys on the mound on the weekends, they have got to embody what your program is. They have to represent me, they have to represent themselves, and they've got to represent the entire program because how they go about their business is extremely important."

On the importance of a new baseball facility in the future ...
"We'll it is real important. That is a topic I have in conversations with Mitch frequently. It is important. But I tell our guys all the time, everyone likes newer things. I want a newer car. Everyone wants a newer car. And I get that and I understand that. The facility is important from a recruiting standpoint. Our guys are probably tired of hearing me say this, but I know for a fact that you can win a conference championship in Cliff Hagan Stadium, I've got a ring. That part has been proven. The bigger issue for me with the stadium is that it is a statement to where the program is. We are in the conference. It is time. Mitch is aware that obviously things like that take time. It is a huge expenditure of money. And if you have watched anything that Mitch has done during his time here it is all about facility improvement. Everything has gotten better. And once we get the football practice facility started here, the only thing that is left is baseball and I just turn that into a positive, the longer we wait, the better it is going to be. That is the way it is going to happen and I will be very glad to be a part of it. Mitch is very supportive and I appreciate him listening to me because I wear him out pretty frequently about it."

On playing the nation's No. 1 team, Virginia, in the season opener ...
"I am really excited. We kind of caught a break there. When I called UNC Wilmington, I had been to Wilmington before, I thought it would be a good place to do something different and get the season started, UVA wasn't a part of the tournament. When Mark called me up and asked if I would be willing to (play Virginia) in the opener and I said absolutely. I think that is great. It is win-win. If I had my choice, we probably would have been outside another day or two but that is what it is. I don't know Brian very well, I know the two assistants well and we are looking forward to playing them."

On how Austin Cousino's experience with Team USA can help the team ...
"The things that kids bring, there is a little bit of knowledge that they bring, there is no question about that. And typically you see things. They typically tend to be relatively similar over time. That is the kid comes back from the freshman year of summer baseball much, much more mature. Understanding that when he's at Kentucky, he is at a special league and a special place and we are a part of a great university. They know that when they are a freshman but I don't think they know and believe it until they go out and they play with guys that are from different conferences, or different schools, or guys that don't have nearly the resources or experiences that we do. In terms of Austin specially, the knowledge piece that he brings, it is good, it is great. But I am much more concerned about the leadership, the willingness to lead, the presence, the ability to handle short-term failure. I think those are things that you learn in those types of environments. He has done a great job of that, a very good job."

On how having some relievers who have some experience and how that helps ...
"I think it helps a lot. But there are a couple of things, key things, that when you ask that I think of and one is just getting used to me telling them that it is not good enough when they first get here. Because their whole life someone has told them that they are good enough and I understand that and we have a piece of that in the recruiting process. But then they get here and you have been courting this kid for a year or two and the first thing you have to tell them is that that is not going to work. So you have to get through that piece where they trust your evaluation because it is initially a shot at their self-esteem because they haven't hear that so you have to get through that piece of it and that is what the freshman fall is. The next part of it is building the trust with a guy in the pen so that you can tell a guy whatever you want, in whatever fashion you want, because you are trying to capture his attention to get him to take the next step. That is the biggest piece, breaking down that wall of resistance because they have been told forever how good they are. With an older kid, he has been around that road a year or two. (Sam) Mahar is a great example. Sam is a perfect example of that. As soon as he gets his arm strength back he is going to be very effective for us. He is throwing strikes and he has a chance to be very, very good but right now his arm strength is not where it needs to be. I think he is healthy but he probably has 10 innings of work before he takes another jump. Taylor Martin is in the same spot."

On if there are any young players, like Kyle Barrett in 2013, who could break out in 2014 ...
"We have about three guys who have a gene pool, a skill set, a nature ability that set them apart a little bit. Now whether or not they are ready to play the game in our league, and be successful, I don't know. You don't know about those guys, you really don't. In all fairness, I thought when Austin came here as a freshman he was going to be a very good player. But I gauged that off of two things: one was the stroke that I saw the first time I was sold on the stroke immediately. The other thing about him is he had a presence about him. There is a confidence that comes with some kids. Now he had some confidence that was born out of a lot of success early on, he had been successful playing youth sports early on. They all don't come that way. Compare his presence as a freshman with some of the other guys, and his presence was ahead. Some guys just develop later, that is all there is too it. Chris Bisson was a tremendous player here when he left that was not ready as a freshman. So you don't know but you could see how he was wired. Live body, fast, smart, all of those things with Chris. We have some guys that are in that gene pool that are going to be very good players when they leave here."

On junior college transfer outfielder Ka'ai Tom ...
"Well Ka'ai brings power, maybe not tremendous home run power but he has enough power, he is a strong body kid that he is going to be able to run the ball over outfielders heads and into the gap. He runs well and he throws well. Really impressed with what he did, by the time we got done in November and when we came back in January, he had a different stroke. He had figured out some things with his swing. He was also a little stronger. Anytime a kid goes home for a month and you can see that they have been working, which you can, or not, anytime a kid does that you almost always feel it is going to go well for them early on. He has a little bit of a hamstring issue he is dealing with right now but he is going to be a good player for us."

On how UK recruited Tom, a native of Hawaii ...
"He was at a junior college and we saw him in the summer. We had a need for another outfield spot and honestly really wanted a right-handed bat and couldn't find that and found one that we thought was capable of playing in our league and anytime you find someone you think is capable of playing in our league and you have a need, it is kind of like the draft, you fill a specific spot or you get the best player you can find and it was that type of a thought."

On what he is working on with sophomore righty Kyle Cody ...
"Nothing unusual, the absolute basics. One of the things that distinguish him and one of those is well above-average arm strength and it is not just that the ball is hard but he has life on it when it is down and that sets him apart a little bit and that was pretty evident last year for a lot of the at-bats that people took against him. The other thing, besides just the physical presence, he is bigger and stronger than most kids that you are going to see on the field this year on either team, is he has an above average feel for a change-up for somebody that throws that hard. Towards the end of the year last year he had a very average breaking ball, it wasn't above, it was just a very average freshman breaking ball. But what you saw was the change up wasn't average, it was above average. So you saw a lot of balance from swings, we started using it late in the count. The biggest thing for Kyle Cody is a true commitment to play the game a pitch at a time. He is responsible, he is accountable, all of the personality issues, those are all in place. But he has to learn to concentrate at a higher level but he will."

UK STUDENT-ATHLETE QUOTES

#14, Chandler Shepherd, Jr., RHP

On how excited he is to get the season started against No. 1 Virginia ...
"It's a huge game, but we're really excited for it. We've put in so much work in the offseason and continued to this spring. We're all just ready to go. That's all we're talking about and it's to the point now where we're just ready to let loose and have fun and play ball. It's that time."

On entering the starting rotation this season ...
"My main focus is to do whatever I can to help the team. Starting, relieving or whatever it may be, I'm happy with it. Becoming a starting pitcher is what you work for. I'm really excited and ready to go. We've got some great guys who can complement the bullpen. All our starters are going to be great, so I'm really excited."

On if joining the starting rotation changed his mentality during the offseason ...
"No, it didn't at all. We have a really good routine that we do here at school. I just take it a day at a time and try to get better on that specific day. It's all led up to here and everything is the same."

#19, Austin Cousino, Jr., CF

On the play in the past as compared to now ...
"I think I'm doing good just playing the game one pitch at a time and one bat just like from freshman year."

On playing in a draft year and how it can affect juniors ...
"I just look back on my freshman year and look at what that junior class did and you look out how successful they were as a team and what they did as a team. I think it speaks for itself. You look at A.J. (Reed), Chandler (Shepherd), me and Max (Kuhn), what we have to do, I think, we need to come together as a team and that's been the focus from day. We get the freshmen involved and the sophomores to grow and if we do that we will be a good team. At the end of the day you want to host the regional, that something we didn't do last year and if we do those the individual goals will take care of itself."
 
Things that are different compared to this year from last year ...
"I think we have a little more leadership and we have more people that are working. We're able to mesh the freshmen well, the sophomores, the juniors and just getting everyone involved. Not to say last year was bad but we learned how important it is to bring those guys with us because we didn't have much depth last year. There was a lack of that and this year we have six guys that are freshmen that might not be coming off the bench but starting. We had that depth two years ago and we're going to have that again this year which is awesome and I'm excited to see how it turns out."

#18, A.J. Reed, Jr., LHP/1B

On the cold weather and not being able to practice as much ...
"We've been working really hard and have been going over to the Nutter Indoor. Just using what we have to be able to get ready for the season. We've been playing a couple intersquads out there, trying to get the field cleared off enough for us to at least go out there and use the infield for pitchers versus hitters. Not necessarily getting the defense work but at least getting some at bats before we head down to North Carolina for our games."

On this being the worst winter since you have been at UK ...
"My freshman year we played a lot of scrimmage games before the season started in January and February. Played probably around 15 games and probably got 10 or 15 in last year so it has definitely been a lot different this year, not being able to go outside and get those games, at bats and innings. Just trying to make the best of it with what we got."

On what he has worked on in the offseason to improve his game ...
"In the offseason and the fall we really worked on changing my body so I can last throughout the season longer. I dropped about 20 pounds, which was a big thing for us being able to work the whole field hitting wise and going the other way using the gaps. Also really enhancing my pitches by making them better, sharper and I got a better curveball. I think overall that's really going to help."

Opening statement ...

"Thank you for being here. I appreciate it. I'd like to start off by congratulating Rachel (Lawson) on a fantastic weekend. She is very good at what she does. We are excited about this season. I will go about this the same way that I have in the past. I'll just go around the diamond and when we get done, whatever I didn't touch base on or whatever you all have questions on, I will answer. Anything is fair game. We're really excited about certain parts of our club. We are excited about the returning position players and the maturity they have and the experience they have. We got 11 guys that were here and 12 that are going to be with us this year. That is a tremendous benefit for us. The maturity of our group is at a different level than it was at any time last spring, so that's really a positive. The team culture is good to this point and obviously I'm well aware we haven't played a game yet, but I am proud of what the kids have done. That's a really good thing and it makes you feel good about our kids and work with them on a daily basis. I'll start with the pitching. It probably takes the most of my time during practice, but it seems to always generate the most questions and obviously has a huge impact on your club. We are going to have three starting pitchers that are good, if not very good on any given date. We'll be able to match up with starting pitching every weekend. We got A.J. (Reed) back for his junior year, we got Chandler Shepherd back for his junior year, and then we got Kyle Cody. Those three guys should be very, very competitive and very skilled. There will be some growth throughout the year with these three guys. They have to get better at their own specific battles. They know what those are and I have done a very good job of communicating that with them. A.J. and Shepherd have been through the league for two years. Kyle got some starts obviously last year and the weekend as well towards the end of the year. They are three very talented kids who are competitive and we are proud to run those three guys out. We have got 10 new pitchers on the staff. We've got two guys coming back that were injured last year and had surgeries. So between those 12 and the three guys who pitched in relief last year, I've got to get a new bullpen and that will be my primary job throughout the early part of the year. I got to get a bullpen developed, that's on me. That's what I do and I need to do a good job of it. Anytime you have a new group of kids, there are going to be some ups and downs in that bullpen role. We have just gone through a two-year historic period, Brent Ingram tells me, of having the most impressive or best numbers that UK has ever had here in the bullpen, the last two years. We are proud of that and those kids are gone. They did a good job for us, but it's time to develop a new group of kids and that's what I'm going to have to do. We've got two, Zack Strecker and Dylan Dwyer. We got Ryne Combs from here in town. Those three along with the 10 new ones, I've got to find a group of five kids we can basically count on. They have got to grow into their roles, they have to be confident, aggressive, dominate the bottom of the strike zone. All of the things you need to do to be good at pitching, that's what they've got to do. That will take a little bit of time, but they will be up for the task. Moving around the diamond, at catcher, we are probably one of the very few teams in the country to have three returning catchers. We're good there. Micheal Thomas is in front. He is a fifth-year senior who has done a really, really good job in a lot of areas. Leadership, developing confidence, changing his body, he's stronger, understanding the game at a much higher level than he did a couple years ago, a true belief in himself, able to communicate on different levels throughout the spectrum of the pitching staff personalities. Micheal is much improved. Greg Fettes and Zach Arnold are in a daily battle for that second spot. They are both going to be good enough to where we can use them. Why would you use three catchers? Well, you never know when somebody's going to take a foul ball off the thumb, pitching matchups, pinch-hitting matchups, base running. None of those three are near the fastest runners that we have. If you got yourself in a position where you need to run, we have a very capable back up, and that's a really good thing. So that's where we are at catching. It will be better than it was last year. They are all older and stronger. Our throwing to second base has improved. It should be a very secure position for us. Max Kuhn will be at third base. This will be Max's third year, a tremendous growth over the summer and the fall. Really a much more comfortable player, a more confident player. He's grown into a player that our kids look up to, especially the younger kids on the infield. He finished the fall on fire at the plate offensively wearing out the right center gap. A much more mature approach to competition and hitting. He's done a good job. Max has improved his body, he's stronger, and we are really, really glad we have Max. Matt Reida will be the shortstop. It will be Matt's fourth year with us. He's going to provide infield leadership. He does a really, really good job defensively. A much different body than he had in the past. A real commitment to the weight room, which has been impressive and I think it's had a really positive impact on our club. Matt's a smart player, good player. He is going to have a much better year offensively. The strength and maturity, as well as another year in our league and knowing what to expect is going to help Matt. We're open at second base. Connor Heady and JaVon Shelby are the two guys battling it out there. Both are really talented players. They are going to be really, really good players by the time they leave UK. A little bit different style player, but both of them very confident, very athletic. They both run well, they both have well above-average arm strength, they are both freshmen, so that will bring the challenges that come with any freshmen. Those are the two guys that are in front for the battle at second base and we are excited to have those two guys with us. The two guys that are going to be at first base, most of the time if we can keep Thomas Bernal healthy, it will be Thomas and A.J. Reed. Obviously Greg and Michael Thomas have played a little bit of first base last year, so those two guys can spell at first base as well. First base is going to be an important position for us when we have A.J. is pitching because we have got to get some right handed production over there. We should be very good as a club hitting from the left side. We have very talented kids. One of our battles early on is going to be to develop some right-handed hitters. We need guys that we can count on, that can give us quality at bats. Thomas is a guy who has absolutely changed his body, and again it's his fourth year here. He's a leader on our team. Kids respect him for the type of work ethic that he has and the type of person he is. He is bright, he's tough, and he's swinging his bat at a different level, so obviously that is very encouraging to me and to us, and the kids notice. Those are the infield positions. We should be somewhere between above average and outstanding in the outfield, we really should. We have talented kids. We've got competitive kids who will be able to run. We lead the country in left handed hitting outfielders. You can only play three at a time, so the fact that we have six might not be much of a benefit, but if you could play six we could do it. We have good players out there. Austin Cousino will be back for his third year in centerfield. Kyle Barrett will be in the outfield as well. We've got a pretty good battle going on for that third spot and when we face an above average left handed slider, it would be nice to put a right handed bat out there. For us, right now the two candidates are Dorian Hairston and JaVon Shelby, moving in from second base. Those two guys are going to have to battle it out for that right handed hitting spot out there. For the left handed hitting spot, Ka'ai Tom has done a very good job, Marcus Carson has done a good job, Storm Wilson has done a good job, and Bryce Bastien is another left handed hitting candidate. There're six of them. That's the outfield we are going to run positionally. We've got good runners. A.J. is not a good runner, but the rest of them run pretty good. On that topic, one of the things that has been a real bright spot for us has been the fact that A.J. has a different body than he had last year. He took it upon himself to lose 20 pounds. It's helped him at the plate and is going to help him immensely at the mound. I think it's helped our team. I think any time a college kid makes a commitment like that and changes how he goes about his business, I think it's a really positive thing. I think everybody appreciates it. I think everybody respects it and appreciates it and I think we are going to benefit by the fact that A.J. has taken his physical condition to a new level. Overall, our bodies have changed dramatically. Sometimes you wonder why you can't do that every year, but the bottom line is you can't force effort in the weight room. You can force them to get in there, you can make them do the lifts, but the intensity and commitment they take, the personal pride that they have for themselves and each other is something that you try to influence in a positive way all the time from the coaching staff. This group has really taken it upon themselves. We've got some bodies that some fans are going to look at and say, `Wow, is that really him out there?' We've got three or four of them that are much, much different. Older kids too, not just sophomores. That's really a positive thing and I am proud of our kids for what they have done and I know our coaching staff is as well."

 

On having a lot of junior college transfers on the squad ...

"We have had tremendous success here junior college wise. If you have been a follower of our program, we have probably had more success with junior college players than anyone in the league I think over the past decade. It's been kind of phenomenal really. So that's the thinking. Any time that you go get guys in the spring, junior college kids, that's because you either planned for it or a freshman didn't work out, and we had both. That's the reality of it. We had a couple guys here last year as freshmen that we though were going to be able to do it and they were not able to do it. So you go and you fill those spots. The two kids on the pitching staff right now are extremely hard workers. They are still in that adjustment period in the same exact place that Sawyer Carroll was as a junior. Exactly the same are Matt Robinson or Alex Phillips. It's phenomenal how that cycle repeats itself, but that's where they are and they are going to end up being very good and guys that we can count on. Right now they are making their way. The transition for the junior college kids sometimes is exactly like it is for the freshmen. They've got to make their way. They got to learn to believe that they can do it. They are plenty skilled enough, there's no question about that, but they have to get past the belief issue and get comfortable and all the rest. Those two guys are going to help though. (Dominic) D'Souza has been hurt. Tyler Tipton has been hurt. Bryce Bastien was here in school last year and has done a good job. Matt Snyder from Temple. Matt is going to help us on the mound. Anyway, that's a solid group of kids. We have done a really good job here of getting smart, tough junior college kids, so hopefully I can say that same about those two guys in a two years."

 

On how the weather conditions have presented a challenge in preparing for the season ...

"Well, we don't talk about the weather. Does it present some challenge? Yea it does. It doesn't really make any difference. It is what it is. We have what we have. We haven't been outside. This is certainly my worst winter of 11. We've had similar winters before and what I know from that experience is it takes you a week or two longer to get it going. Baseball is a game that you have to play. You can drill it, you can cage it, you can throw in the bullpens all you want, but you've got to play the game. Until we get those repetitions under our belt and we get that experience you'll expect that maybe the game is not quite as crisp in weeks one and two as you'd like, but you'll grow from it. I think the kids know that and as long as our hearts in the right spot and the work ethic stays the same and we are constantly proving our ability to concentrate and play the game a pitch at a time and really have a true commitment to competitive at bats, I think we'll be fine. The thing that you are going to constantly battle early on when you haven't had the field time is giving away extra bases. You are not quite as sharp defensively as you'd like. You can hit all the ground balls you want inside Nutter and it's not the same as a live ball coming off the bat, so you know that for your infielders. The running game is something we work extremely hard on here, but still that's a transitional piece from practice to the games that the pitchers you have got to become comfortable then aggressive with. Then that confrontation you have between the pitcher and the hitter is something that is not the same in practice than in a game. I think our kids know that. The game will get cleaner as the spring goes on. I tell our guys all the time, and I think they believe me, that the game changes between week two and week three of SEC play. It just does. It gets better. I think you see the same thing in the preseason. Hopefully we get to play all the preseason games and don't get rained out and have to reschedule. If we do that, by the time we get to Tuscaloosa, we should be ready to go."


 

 

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