LEXINGTON, Ky. -- For the second time since December, Kentucky baseball has received a school-record ranking in the preseason, as Baseball America placed the Wildcats No. 11 in its annual top-25, announced on Thursday morning.
Kentucky has received its highest preseason ranking in program history on three occasions already in 2013, as Collegiate Baseball tabbed UK No. 8, in a poll that dates back to 1958. On Tuesday, Perfect Game USA ranked the Wildcats No. 13 in its top-25 poll. UK had last been ranked in the preseason as high as No. 19 in 2009 and No. 20 in 2008 by Collegiate Baseball. UK was last ranked by Baseball America in the preseason in 2007, ranked No. 30. Conclusive preseason polls have been located back to 1999.
The Wildcats are coming off a historic 2012 season that saw UK break the school-record for wins (45), posting 20 wins against Southeastern Conference foes and ascending to the first-ever No. 1 national ranking in program annals for three weeks. UK head coach Gary Henderson was named SEC Coach of the Year, centerfielder Austin Cousino SEC Freshman of the Year and Cousino, Corey Littrell, Luke Maile and A.J. Reed each earned All-SEC accolades. Cousino and Reed earned consensus freshman All-America honors and join Littrell as preseason All-America honorees entering 2013.
In addition to Cousino, Littrell and Reed, Kentucky returns one of the NCAA’s top rosters. UK ranks second in the NCAA in players that have been drafted in their careers (15), just behind Vanderbilt (18) and ahead of UCLA (13). Florida, South Carolina, Arizona State and Oregon State check in with 12 drafted players on its 2013 rosters, with Ole Miss (11), Arkansas (10) and Southern California (10) completing teams with 10 or more drafted players on its rosters.
UK also tied for the nation’s lead with nine players on its roster in the prestigious Cape Cod League or with the USA Collegiate National Team during the summer, equaling LSU and Louisville. Veterans Corey Littrell, Trevor Gott, Jerad Grundy, A.J. Reed, Matt Reida, Walter Wijas and Zac Zellers each played in the Cape, while Cousino led Team USA in hitting.
Kentucky’s school-record 2012 campaign also featured Littrell as a semifinalist for the College Baseball Hall of Fame Pitcher of the Year Award, Gott on the watch lists for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award, and Reed a semifinalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award. Reida was also on the watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award, given to the nation’s top shortstop. At the end of the year, Littrell – who led the SEC in pickoffs – was honored as the NCAA’s top defensive pitcher with the Rawlings Gold Glove Trophy.
A school-record total of nine UK players were selected in the 2012 MLB Draft, the second-most in the NCAA. Grundy, a 26th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins, elected to return for his senior season, while all five signees enrolled at UK, a new school mark.
Kentucky will open its 2013 season on Feb. 15 in Spartanburg, S.C., against UNC-Asheville at 12 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with Dick Gabriel calling the action. UK’s home lidlifter will be on Feb. 26, when the Wildcats host Murray State at 4 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.