The noise surrounding the Kentucky Baseball program the past few weeks has been discouraging and bleak, to say the least. Ever since losing the final four series of the season and subsequently following that up with a predictable loss in first day of the SEC tournament, BBN started to get somewhat testy over the direction of the program in the future.
It’s not without good reason. Nearly double-digit ‘Cats have already entered their name into the transfer portal and decided to use their extra eligibility somewhere else, with more almost certainly to follow within the coming weeks.
On the flip side, some of the most significant pieces from this years squad could be leaving for a more traditional route. Prospects Live recently dropped a top-500 prospects rankings list heading into this summers draft, and more than a few ‘Cats could find their name drafted at some point during the week.
While still not at its usual full length, the draft is still dramatically increasing up to 20 rounds after having to deal with a 5-round set-up in 2020. It surely impacted some of the Bat ‘Cats from getting drafted last season, but this time around should be different, and we should see some Wildcats go pro for the first time in a few years.
#115 John Rhodes
“Draft-eligible sophomore in 2021. Was a huge performer as a freshman in 2020, slashing .426/.486/.672 with 12 XBH in 15 games. Doesn’t strike out and plays a good outfield. Went on to bat .382 in the Northwoods League this summer. Played some catcher for Kentucky, but is an outfielder long term. Corner bat. Many believe Rhodes to be in the same tier as Christian Franklin, Levi Usher, Colton Crowser and Ethan Wilson. That may be true, he simply hasn’t had the opportunity against advanced competition to prove it true yet.”
Rhodes’ career in Lexington has been unique. He came on to the scene immediately in 2020 as one of the best players on the roster. He led the SEC in doubles and was tabbed an All-American by some publications. Albeit none of it was against SEC competition that year, it was still enough to garner major national attention towards Rhodes headed into this season. Multiple publications including MLB Pipeline had the Tennessee native as a fringe first-rounder.
Listen folks, the only reason Rhodes is even eligible for the draft is because it got moved back to July instead of June. He’s not even supposed to be getting drafted this year, but alas he was eligible, and honestly might have worried about it a little too much.
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??Led the team in runs, doubles, walks and HBP
??Led Division I with eight outfield assists
??Had an OPS of .905
??Drew a walk and/or HBP in 34 games
??Had reached safely streaks of 23 and 17 games@j_rhodes6 | #WeAreUK pic.twitter.com/7Fs0EEd5v5
— Kentucky Baseball (@UKBaseball) June 1, 2021
Power and run production were huge parts to his game this year, giving people more reason to like him in a draft setting, but that’s about all that really improved once Rhodes got matched up against some of the best in the country. The average dropped nearly 200 points down to a .251, his strikeout rate skyrocketed from 8.1% up to 20.3% and the on-base percentage dropped below .400 this year. Despite the significant drop in production, Rhodes was still by far one of the better players the ‘Cats had this year, and shows some of the best potential upside out of anyone in the program.
#290 Austin Schultz
“You’d be hard-pressed to find something Schultz doesn’t do well. He’s got an advanced hit tool, a sounds approach, good discipline and plays a solid second base. He’ll get knocked by some evaluators for his size, but the performances on the field and floor should get his name selected reasonably early”
Am I allowed to disagree with these rankings? I know, I probably have some sort of bias set in, but Schultz was consistently one of the better players on the field regardless of who Kentucky played. He had his breakout in 2020 posting a .393 average to go along with a 1.233 OPS in the limited action. He returned in 2021 even better, maintaining an elite stat line against the SEC and showing versatility throughout the field.
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?? 24 multi-hit games (second in SEC)
?? 22 steals (second in SEC)
?? .882 OPS
?? Reached safely in 100 of 110 career games
?? Did not go hitless in back-to-back games in 2021@AustinSchultz23 | #WeAreUK pic.twitter.com/Ryv5N4Jzvm
— Kentucky Baseball (@UKBaseball) June 3, 2021
Over his three years in Lexington, Schultz has played all three outfield positions and both middle infield positions. While not necessarily elite at any spot, he’s proved to be a plus glove wherever you put him. Also one of the fastest players in the draft this year, Schultz has real potential to be a steal if he falls into the latter rounds.
#395 T.J. Collett
“Well-leveraged lefty power bat. Can play some first base. Power is the defining tool whilst his other tools are fringy at best”
Collett was really the only player last year who had some attention on them heading into the draft, because of the 5 round system. He returned to Lexington to hit dingers and move up the all-time leaderboard here in Lexington. The graduate senior came back to some All-American nods and performed to that level. 2021 saw Collett produce his best collegiate season so far, hitting career highs in home runs (16), OPS (1.008) and RBI (48). More impressively, Collett really became a good contact hitter as well this year. Batting average was always a knock on him, to which he batted .301 this past season in full SEC competition. 2021 also brought along the lowest strikeout rate of his career (20.9%)
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??Led team in HR, RBI and total bases
??Had more HR in SEC play (10) than non-SEC play
??Had a hit in 40 games
??Made only 4 errors in 423 chances
??OPS never dipped below 1.000
??Reached base in 26 of last 28 games#WeAreUK pic.twitter.com/oKvsBpNivd
— Kentucky Baseball (@UKBaseball) May 30, 2021
The arguably most attractive thing about Collett to MLB scouts may not even be his work on the field. Collett was an absolute joy to cover for anyone who was around the Kentucky program. The humbleness and work ethic are guaranteed to work on the field, all he needs to do his focus on improving his game if he wants to make a serious impact on an MLB system.
#428 Oraj Anu
“Big, physical outfielder with impressive bat speed and lofty attack angle from the left side. Really quick hands. Has proven he can handle velocity. Below average athlete with a fringy arm. Probably best set for left field.”
This process isn’t new to Oraj in the slightest, being that he’s been drafted by the Red Sox twice so far in his career. The latest being a 16th round selection in the 2019 draft. It’s relatively easy to see why Anu would have scouts watering by the mouth at some points. He hits bombs, legit bombs, and the swing is conducive to doing so. He also strikes out, like a lot. If the ball makes contact, it’s going hard as is more likely than not going far. He just has to find a way to make more contact when at the plate. It’s also going to be hard putting Anu in the outfield full time given his struggles there, he may have to stick as a DH once he turns pro.