(John Rhodes, photo credit UK Athletics)
Not sure who benefited more from the time off–the players or Nick Mingione. Either way, it’s a bit of a welcome restart for UK Baseball. Our Just the Cats intern, Jordan Brown, with the latest.
UK Baseball: Summer leagues preparing Cats for a possible 2021 Season
By Jordan Brown
After losing the majority of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, it didn’t take long for Wildcat players to jump to the opportunity to get back onto the field. The last game that our players stepped onto the field together as a team was March 10. But positively looking toward a 2021 season, Nick Mingione seemed to encourage his players to make up for their loss of a season in any way possible.
Fifteen players returning to play for the Wildcats next season took the time out of quarantining and their summers to improve their game. They were able to find summer homes playing for teams across the country. John Rhodes, who was named National Co-Freshman of the Year, even with the cancellation the latter half of the season, played well in the Coastal Plain League, Northwoods League, and the College Summer League at Grand Park.
Rhodes played for the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders of the Northwoods League playing alongside some of his Kentucky teammates, Ryan Ritter and Zack Lee. He had the highest team batting averaging at .373 in 83 at-bats, finishing with seven doubles, a homer, 31 hits, and 20 runs batted in. When the NWLs came to an end, he had posted an eight-game hitting streak including a 4-for-5 game on July 11.
Ritter and Lee were able to make some things happen as well. Lee on the mound, started five games going 2-0. He recorded 16 strikeouts and only allowed 24 hits. Ritter batted .259 in 85 at-bats in 29 games. He had a total 22 hits and raked five doubles, leaving him with 19 runs batted in. He kept a good eye for the ball, being walked 15 times and hit by five pitches, landing him a .385 on-base percentage.
Oraj Anu and Alonzo Rubalcabo spent part of their summer playing with the Waterloo Bucks of the Northwoods League. Anu batted 97 times and had a batting average of .330. He recorded 32 hits and smacked three home runs. His on base percentage was a .402, giving him the ability to steal three bases. He ranked second on the team RBI average and had 17 during the span. He had back-to-back games with three hits twice and scored multiple runs six times. Rubalcaba was efficient, being walked nine times and only stuck out 13 times. He had an on-base percentage of .368 and went 4-for-5 with two runs scored and a double on July 25. He had 16 hits and did his part in contributing to the dingers the Wildcats were seeking out.
One of the leaders of the current team, T.J. Collett, was able to get some time on the field after taking some time off after the cancellation of Kentucky’s regular season. He played seven games in the College Summer League at Grand Park finishing with a home run, three RBIs, and scored a couple himself in just 16 at-bats. He drew five walks and struck out just twice, not missing a beat when returning to the field for a short period.
Other Wildcat players that also participated in summer leagues were: Jake Plastiak, Kirk Liebert, Zack Kammin, Brendan Hord, Drew Grace, Chase Estep, Alex Degen, Harrison Cook, and Ron Cole.
I give high praise to these players and the leagues they were able to compete in for giving guys an opportunity to prepare for their next college season and even showcase their skills to MLB scouts and coaches. After a long off-season it seems as if the two-year-old Kentucky Proud Park is brand new again and leaves us hoping for a new start this spring.
Jordan Brown is a Print Journalism major at the University of Kentucky. He was born and raised in Lexington and has been passionately following the Wildcats for the majority of his life. He played basketball in high school and is currently also serving as an assistant high school coach at Paul Laurence Dunbar in Lexington.