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Jamie Vaught: March Madness may be on everyone’s mind, but baseball season is right around the corner

Even though most folks are still focusing on basketball right now with March Madness just around the corner, UK’s highly-respected baseball team has already begun its 2018 campaign on a high note, posting a 7-1 record in nonconference action going into this week’s games.

As you probably remember, Kentucky baseballers – who will face Arkansas for their first SEC weekend series in mid-March — are coming off an outstanding 43-23 performance last spring that saw the program advance to its first-ever Super Regional and finish with a Top 10 ranking. The Wildcats last year were one of SEC’s nation-leading eight selections to the NCAA baseball tournament with the championship series of the College World Series featuring an All-SEC final between Florida and LSU.  

And the popular baseball yearbooks, which are now available on newsstands, are forecasting another great campaign for second-year head coach Nick Mingione and his Kentucky squad in 2018. Just like the other preseason polls such as Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball which have listed UK as a Top 10 squad.

2018 baseball yearbooks

The Charlotte, N.C.-based Street & Smith’s, which has an eight-page spread on NCAA baseball, has picked Kentucky at No. 8 in its preseason top 25 poll. The other SEC teams ranked among the top 10 are Florida (No. 1), Arkansas (No. 6) and Mississippi (No. 10).

The yearbook also recognized a couple of Wildcats with its preseason All-American teams. Outfielder Tristan Pompey was chosen to the first-team All-American (position players), while 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle was selected to the second-team of All-American pitchers. Both are juniors.

Another player in the state of Kentucky – junior Niko Hulsizer of Morehead State — was also chosen as a first-team All-American outfielder by Street & Smith’s. Hulsizer, who captured the Ohio Valley Conference Co-Player of the Year honors last season, ranked second in the country with 27 home runs.

Athlon Sports, meanwhile, has ranked Kentucky a little higher, placing the Wildcats at No. 4 in its preseason poll with Florida getting the nation’s top spot. Arkansas and Vanderbilt are rated at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.

While Athlon did not have a Wildcat player on its preseason All-American team, the Nashville-based yearbook had Morehead State’s Hulsizer listed as AA designated hitter.

As for the 2018 draft prospects, Lindy’s Sports has projected two UK stars among the top 45 prep or college players based on talent alone. Lindy’s has Pompey — who has an older brother, Dalton, who was the opening day center fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015 — at No. 25, and Hjelle at No. 45.

Athlon has Hjelle among the top 40 college-level draft prospects at No. 9 with Pompey at No. 11, while Street & Smith’s has Pompey among the top 50 draft prospects at No. 18.

As far as MLB predictions go, the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds, not surprisingly, are not expected to do much this season.

Lindy’s, though, has picked Cincinnati, which has finished last in the Central Division for three straight years, to be a little better this season at No. 4, just ahead of the No. 5 Pittsburgh Pirates. The Birmingham-based yearbook likes the St. Louis Cardinals as the favorite to win the Central division.

But both Street & Smith’s & Athlon have Cincy at last in the division, just behind No. 4 Pirates, with the Chicago Cubs getting the top spot in Central.

However, it should be pointed out Pittsburgh’s two major trades of stars Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen were made after the colorful yearbooks went to press.

So, perhaps the Reds finally will move up and stay out of the basement for the first time in recent memory at the end of the 2018 campaign.

Nevertheless, the yearbooks are sure nice to have around next to your recliner during the summer months when watching baseball on television.

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In addition to the yearbooks, you may also enjoy “Baseball Prospectus 2018” by editors Aaron Gleeman and Bret Sayre (Turner Publishing, $27.99). It is a must-have volume for serious baseball fans.

The 596-page annual contains all of the important regular and advanced statistics, player predictions and insider-level commentary. It also provides fantasy players and insiders alike with prescient PECOTA projections, which The New York Times called “the überforecast of every player’s performance.”

With the major league baseball campaign officially beginning in the last week of March, this paperback will get you ready for 2018 and help you become an MLB expert.


Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.

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