Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 8 Kentucky

2017 Record: 43-23 (19-11 in SEC); reached super regional. Final ranking: No. 9. Coach (Record at school): Nick Mingione (43-23, 1 year). Top 200 2018 Draft Prospects: OF Tristan Pompey (21), RHP Sean Hjelle (40), RHP Zach Haake (75), RHP Justin Lewis (184).

The good news: Kentucky in 2017 advanced to super regionals for the first time in program history. From that team, the Wildcats return All-American outfielder Tristan Pompey and their entire rotation, including Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year Sean Hjelle and All-Freshman lefthander Zack Thompson. The pitching staff was further bolstered by righthander Justin Lewis unexpectedly returning for his redshirt junior year and the addition of high-profile junior college transfer Zach Haake, giving the Wildcats one of the best rotations in the country.

The bad news: In a reverse from last year, Kentucky returns plenty of experience on the mound, but lost five starters from its high-powered lineup. Most significantly, the Wildcats must replace All-American first baseman Evan White, the team’s leading hitter and 11th overall pick of last year’s draft. The Wildcats’ recruiting class included several junior college hitters who will be asked to provide immediate impacts, including shortstop Trey Dawson and center fielder Ben Aklinski, who are known for their defense and should keep Kentucky strong up the middle.

Returner to know: Kole Cottam, C/1B: Coming off a solid sophomore season, Cottam has the potential to make a big jump as a junior. He will continue to split time with Troy Squires behind the plate, while also mixing in some time at first base. He is one of Kentucky’s top power threats and has made significant strides as defender over the last year.

Path to Omaha: Since taking over the program following the 2016 season, coach Nick Mingione has emphasized a desire to take Kentucky to heights the program has never reached. After winning in 2017 their first ever regional, the Wildcats have a chance to achieve another program first and advance to Omaha. Kentucky won’t surprise anyone this year and will have to handle playing with higher expectations. It will be able to lean on its pitching staff more this year, which will especially help it during the postseason, but Cottam or someone else will have to step up to help Pompey shoulder the burden offensively.

2018 lineup:

C Troy Squires, R-Sr. .305/.427/.391 | 151 AB |1 HR | 26 RBI
1B Kole Cottam, Jr. .319/.380/.505 | 188 AB | 7 HR | 44 RBI
2B Luke Becker, Sr. .287/.422/.467 | 167 AB | 7 HR | 46 RBI
3B Luke Heyer, Sr. .262/.342/.492 | 65 AB | 3 HR | 12 RBI
SS Trey Dawson, Jr. (Transfer – Chipola (Fla.) JC)
LF Tristan Pompey, Jr. .361/.464/.541 | 266 AB | 10 HR | 45 RBI
CF Ben Aklinski, Jr. (Transfer – Phoenix JC)
RF Ryan Johnson, Jr. (Transfer – San Jacinto (Texas) JC)
DH T.J. Collette, So. .087/.192/.217 | 23 AB | 1 HR | 6 RBI
RHP Sean Hjelle, Jr. 11-4 | 3.89 ERA | 109 IP | 102 SO | 0 SV
LHP Zack Thompson, So. 8-3 | 3.45 ERA | 76 IP | 96 SO | 1 SV
RHP Justin Lewis, R-Jr. 6-4 | 3.56 ERA | 91 IP | 72 SO | 0 SV
RP Chris Machamer, So. 2-0 | 3.18 ERA | 34 IP | 39 SO | 1 SV
RP Brad Schaenzer, Sr. 5-0 | 3.46 ERA | 52 IP | 42 SO | 0 SV

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