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In elimination game, UK will face top draft prospect who doesn’t like Wildcats’ ‘nonsense’

To avoid elimination from the College World Series, Kentucky baseball will need to find an answer for the best remaining MLB draft prospect in the NCAA Tournament.

And he is no fan of the Wildcats.

Florida two-way star Jac Caglianone is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the 2024 draft class by MLB.com. He is seen as a possible contributor at the professional level either at the plate or on the mound, though MLB.com reports most scouts now prefer his left-handed bat to his left-handed arm.

Caglianone entered the College World Series ranked second nationally in home runs (33). He hit .411 with 68 RBIs and 79 runs scored through the super regional while going 4-2 with a 4.71 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 48 walks in 72 2/3 innings on the mound.

In an elimination game against N.C. State on Monday, Caglianone homered and pitched an inning.

Kentucky has faced Caglianone before this season while taking two of three from the Gators in Gainesville in May. It was after that series the Wildcats’ dugout antics drew Caglianone’s ire.

“All their nonsense that they do,” Caglianone said when asked about the cause of tension between the two teams in the finale, “it’s what they’re known for. They’re not a team that’s going to smack the ball all over the yard, for sure. They’re just one of those teams. They’re going to try to get in your head, they’re going to try chanting, all that nonsense.

“The fact that it’s allowed kind of blows my mind, but that’s just how they do it. We do it our way.”

Caglianone was undoubtedly frustrated by the result of the series when he made those comments.

Kentucky won game one 12-11 in 10 innings but was blown out 10-1 in game two. The Wildcats scored four runs in the top of the 10th inning for a 7-5, extra-innings win in game three to spoil Caglianone’s final appearance at Florida’s Condron Ballpark.

Caglianone held Kentucky to three runs, one of which was earned, on two hits in 6 1/3 innings in game three, but it was Kentucky’s approach to him at the plate that also contributed to his frustrations.

UK walked Caglianone eight times across the three games, including six intentional walks. He finished the series 5-for-9 with a solo home run and six runs scored.

“I understand it in a tight situation, for sure, but if there’s like a big lead or something I don’t really understand the point of it,” Caglianone said when asked about the walks. “If I had to guess, they’re just trying to keep me on my feet as long as they can, trying to tire me out.

“But it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of thought process going on over there.”

UK coach Nick Mingione has made no secret of his preference to pitch around the best hitter on the opposing team in key moments.

“There’s certain guys you can’t let beat you,” Mingione said before the SEC Tournament. “I’d rather give up a walk than a home run.”

The Wildcats faced a similar challenge in the super regional when Oregon State star second baseman Travis Bazanna, MLB.com’s No. 1-ranked 2024 draft prospect, came to the plate with runners on base. Kentucky only walked Bazanna twice in two games, but Mingione noted before the series the calculus when facing Bazanna was different than players like Caglianone or Georgia slugger Charlie Condon because of Bazanna’s speed.

Caglianone has stolen just three bases all season and is not a threat to turn a walk into a double with a steal.

As for the dugout antics, which were on full display in Kentucky’s 5-4 win over N.C. State in its world series debut as chanting from the dugout appeared to fluster N.C. State’s starter before an errant pickoff throw in the first inning, Caglianone acknowledging publicly the chanting and other histrionics annoyed him might only increase their intensity Wednesday.

“I think it is (a positive) because it shows it’s kind of working,” reliever Evan Byers said before the NCAA Tournament when asked about opponents taking issue with Kentucky’s dugout energy. “We’re in their head.

“Honestly, we don’t even do it for that. We do it because we want to have fun.”

Florida’s Jac Caglianone runs the bases after hitting a three-run home run against N.C. State during the second inning Monday at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.
Florida’s Jac Caglianone runs the bases after hitting a three-run home run against N.C. State during the second inning Monday at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.

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