There are a ton of notable things about Kentucky pitcher Sean Hjelle.
You could start with the simple fact that he’s 6’11”, much taller than even the tallest pitchers we’re used to seeing on the mound. To hitters, coming off of a raised mound, it must look like he’s releasing the ball 15 feet in front of the plate.
You could also talk about how he took to SEC baseball quite well as a freshman, not a particularly easy thing to do. Serving as a reliever in 2016, he had a 3.74 ERA, nine saves, and 29 strikeouts in 21.2 innings, on the way to being named Freshman All-SEC.
His sophomore season, when he transitioned to starting games, could also be a point of discussion. He went 11-4 with a 3.89 ERA. In 108.2 innings, he struck out 102, walked 33, and held opponents to a .243 batting average. For his efforts, he was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year and he established himself as a top-50 pro prospect to watch.
Most recently, the most interesting thing about Hjelle is that he’ll be leading a 2018 Kentucky pitching staff that has a shot to be the best in the SEC, although Florida, led by their fleet of aces, will certainly have something to say about that.
In addition to Hjelle, the Wildcats welcome back Justin Lewis (6-4, 3.56 ERA, .224 OBA), who spurned overtures as an 11th-round draft pick to return to Lexington, Zack Thompson (8-3, 3.45 ERA, .187 OBA), swingman Brad Schaenzer (3.46 ERA, 52 IP, .218 OBA), and reliever Chris Machamer (3.18 ERA, 34 IP, .164 OBA).
That’s to say nothing of the talented newcomers coming to UK, including Brad Dobzanski, a 39th-round pick of the Giants in 2017, and JUCO transfer Zach Haake, a highly-regarded prospect for the 2018 draft.
There are more questions for Kentucky in the lineup, but led by Hjelle, they’re going to win a ton of games in 2018 on the back of their pitching staff alone.