LEXINGTON – University of Kentucky baseball coach Gary Henderson said this week that second baseman J.T. Riddle – a junior-to-be – and incoming freshman catcher Zach Arnold both have bright futures with his Wildcats.
Riddle is coming off a solid sophomore season for Kentucky, starting all 63 games and batting .279 with 12 doubles, one triple, five home runs and 38 runs batted in, while also playing sound baseball at second.
Riddle, a Western Hills grad, is one of nine Wildcats playing in the prestigious Cape Cod Summer League, a level of the sport traditionally reserved for college baseball’s very best.
“I thought he had a great year,” Henderson said of Riddle on Tuesday. “I’m really proud of him. I thought he concentrated at a much higher level than he did as a freshman. I thought he really grew up as a competitor. I was really pleased with his production. He has turned into one of the best second baseman in the country. And he’s having a really good summer in the Cape.”
Riddle started very slowly in the Cape league, batting as low as .160 just two weeks ago. But he’s turned it on since, raising his batting average to .266 in just some 13 days.
“I think the Cape league can really help kids because they are playing against such a high level of competitor, and it’s game on every time they go out there,” Henderson said. “There are 10 teams of the best college kids in the country. They are playing with a wood bat. He’s facing real velocity every night. He has a chance to not only improve his skills, but also his confidence. He’ll come back with a heightened sense of confidence and self determination.”
Arnold, a Franklin County High grad, has seen his path to self determination at UK receive a lift in recent weeks as both of the catchers ahead of him on the Wildcats’ roster – senior Michael Williams and junior Luke Maile – have left.
Williams graduated and was drafted in the 31st round of the Major League draft, and Maile was drafted in the eighth round. Both players were picked, ironically, by the same team – Tampa Bay.
It’s rare for a freshman to play much at a level like the SEC, but that opportunity may be there for Arnold.
“Our catching situation is wide open, and we expect him to come in and compete for a job,” Henderson said of Arnold. “He loves to play, and we’re very very excited about his potential.”
The keys for early playing time for Arnold?
It’s not brain surgery to answer that.
“He’s going to have to learn to communicate with the older kids on the mound,” Henderson said. “And he’s really going to have to learn how to catch the baseball.”