Former Woodchuck Ready to Move up at Kentucky

 

 

By Brian Rickerd – The State Journal, Frankfort, KY

LEXINGTON — Former Franklin County Flyer and current Kentucky Wildcat Zach Arnold had a great summer, playing in 44 games for the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods Summer League, batting .304, while making the league’s second-half All-Star team.

Arnold has come back for his junior year this fall at UK in great position to challenge for the starting catcher position for the Wildcats, calling his Midwest summer baseball experience “a lot of fun.”

Arnold, a backup the past two seasons at Kentucky to Major League draft choice Micheal Williams, is stronger mentally and physically than he’s ever been.

“Summer went really well,’’ Arnold said after going 2-for-4 at the plate in a UK baseball scrimmage this past week. “I got off to a slow start, but in the second half I took a deep breath and developed a plan, and that really helped me do well.

“The competition was good,” Arnold added. “The guys up there really know how to pitch, and it’s a really good hitters league. I was pleased 

with what I saw.”

Arnold indicated his plan this summer was more or less a way to slow the game down.

“Early in the season I was anxious,” he said. “I was missing a lot of fastballs early in the counts that I should have been hitting, and then I’d get behind in the counts and guys would throw me off-speed pitches that were under the (bat) barrel and so forth.”

Arnold said his approach after the mid-season all-star break was to focus on each at-bat.

“I would go into each at-bat, telling myself, ‘Hit a ground ball to the right side’ … or ‘really let the ball out deep,’” he said. “My self talk was really a lot better. I went on a 19-game hitting streak.”

Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said he was optimistic Arnold would play well in the Northwoods League despite a grind that had the Woodchucks play 75 games in 72 days.

“I really felt like, with the type of person he is, and the kind of enthusiasm he has for baseball, that a lot of games was going to be a benefit for him,” Henderson said of Arnold.

Mission accomplished.

“He’s a lot better,” Henderson said of Arnold. “His body is stronger, he’s throwing more accurately, and he’s make more solid contact.

“The game is starting to slow down for him a little bit,” Henderson added. “He’s by no means a finished product, but he’s getting rewarded for hard work. He’s doing a very good job.”

Arnold did not see a lot of playing time the past two years behind Williams, who’s in the Detroit Tigers’ organization now. Arnold played in 18 games for Kentucky this past spring for a 37-25 UK team that reached the finals of an NCAA regional at Louisville.

Arnold made the most of his limited opportunity, however, hitting .542 on 13 of 24, with a .974 fielding percentage.

Arnold is a much more confident player now, thanks in part to Henderson and his coaching staff, including Keith Vorhoff and new assistant coach Rick Eckstein.

“My swing,” Arnold said when asked how he’s better at this point over a year ago. “Coach Eckstein has lowered my hands and relaxed my shoulders. I think my swing is more fluid now.

“And I’ve been working with Coach Vorhoff almost every single day on my throwing to second. My receiving and blocking have always been good, and I have a decent arm, so I’ve been working hard at being more accurate.”

Arnold shared backup catcher duties last spring with Greg Fettes, and those two will probably platoon this spring, with Fettes occasionally being used as a first baseman and designated hitter.

“Greg is a great catcher,” Arnold said. “I think me and Greg will probably see the field an equal amount. I think we will rotate all spring, and that will save our legs.”

“That could be the best way to get the best out of both guys,” Henderson said.

Arnold is equally excited about the team as well, though Kentucky should have a much different look this spring. Gone are power hitters like Thomas and college player of the year A.J. Reed.

“We’re not going to have the power to hit home runs just whenever we want, but you’re going to see guys just playing baseball,” Arnold said. 

“We have the pitching, we have the defense. Our team looks good. I can see from last year that guys have made incredible strides. Some of our freshmen are just great athletes. And when you look around, you see everybody doing his part. It’s like our whole team feeds off each other.”

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