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Kentucky hosts Travis Bazzana, Oregon St in super regional



As the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and super regional host this weekend, Kentucky Baseball may be the favorite against Oregon State, but the Wildcats are unlikely to have the best player.

That honor goes to Oregon State second baseman Travis Bazzana, the No. 1 prospect in the 2024 MLB draft class according to MLB.com.

Through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, Bazzana is hitting .415 with 28 home runs, 66 RBI, 84 runs scored and 16 stolen bases. He’ll likely compete with Georgia star Charlie Condon for National Player of the Year honors and the No. 1 pick in the July draft.

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MLB.com draft analyst Jonathan Mayo cited a recent survey of high-level scouting personnel as justification for ranking Bazzana ahead of Condon in the most recent draft prospect rankings, despite Condon’s league-leading 36 home runs.

“He has the highest floor with a significant ceiling,” an MLB general manager told Mayo.

MLB.com ranks Oregon State second baseman Travis Bazzana as the top prospect in the 2024 MLB draft class. Kevin Neri/Statesman Journal USA TODAY NETWORK

Kentucky is no stranger to top draft prospects in the super-regional round.

A year ago, the Wildcats traveled to Baton Rouge for the super regional and were held to just four hits in 7 2/3 scoreless innings against LSU ace Paul Skenes, who was later drafted with the top pick. Now, Skenes is a top contender for National League Rookie of the Year after making the jump to the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates less than a year after being drafted.

Bazzana’s hitting prowess suggests he may have an equally quick ride through the minors, so UK fans packing Kentucky Proud Park this weekend could get a taste of a soon-to-be MLB star. With the Cincinnati Reds being the No. 2 pick in the 2024 draft, it’s possible Bazzana will end up playing for many of Kentucky fans’ favorite MLB team.

But first, Nick Mingione’s Wildcats will look to get Bazzana an early start in draft preparation.

Don’t expect Kentucky pitchers to give Bazzana many opportunities to do damage with men on base. UK tied for the SEC lead in number of intentional walks allowed (13) during the regular season, and Mingione has made it clear that many of the pitching staff’s unintentional walks actually occurred in situations where coaches instructed them not to strike out to throw against a dangerous hitter.

“There’s just certain guys that we’re just not going to let ourselves get beat,” Mingione said before the NCAA Tournament Regional. “… It’s better to give them one base instead of four.”

While Kentucky is the higher seed in the matchup with Oregon State, which also won its regional double elimination without losing a game, the Beavers have historically had more baseball success with three national championships and seven College World Series appearances. Six of the College World Series appearances have occurred since 2005.

Kentucky is playing for its first berth in the College World Series.

The Wildcats don’t have any stars of their own, as left fielder Ryan Waldschmidt is now projected as a first-round pick by MLB.com. Waldschmidt (39), right-handed pitcher Travis Smith (178) and second baseman Émilien Pitre (185) were on MLB.com’s top-200 draft prospects list released before the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky’s high-octane offense will need to break through against Oregon State ace Aiden May, ranked 82nd by MLB.com, but Bazzana will need his own help after strong regional NCAA Tournament performances from Kentucky’s top two starting pitchers. Trey Pooser and Mason Moore. Moore has yet to surrender a run in 20 1/3 NCAA Tournament innings over the past two seasons.

Bazzana homered in two of Oregon State’s three regional games, but Kentucky’s pitching staff already has experience with top draft prospects this season.

Condon went just 1-for-8 in Great Britain’s three-game sweep of Georgia in March. MLB.com’s No. 3 Jac Caglianone went 5-for-9 with a home run against Kentucky, but couldn’t prevent the Wildcats from taking two of three in Gainesville. Kentucky walked Condon five times and Caglianone eight times in those series.

Expect a similar approach against Bazzana as Kentucky looks to win the best-of-three super regional.

“We are at our best when we minimize,” Mingione told the region. ‘Did we take some boys out? Yeah, but a lot of that is intentional because there are certain guys you can’t let beat. I’d rather give up a walk than a home run.”

NCAA Super Regionals

Here are the matchups for this weekend’s super-regional round of the NCAA tournament. Each matchup is a best-of-three series, with the winner advancing to the College World Series (teams listed with overall NCAA seed at the start of the 64-team tournament):

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Oregon State

No. 1 Tennessee vs. Evansville

No. 8 Florida State vs. UConn

No. 12 Virginia vs. the State of Kansas

West Virginia vs. No. 4 North Carolina

No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 10 State North Carolina

No. 6 Clemson vs. Florida

No. 3 Texas A&M vs. Oregon

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Jon Hale is the University of Kentucky football beat writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He joined the Herald-Leader in 2022 but has covered British athletics for more than 10 years. Hale was named the 2021 Kentucky Sportswriter of the Year.
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