"This is the best class we've signed since we've been here," said Kentucky head coach John Cohen, who saw his 2004 class ranked among the top 25 in the nation. "It is a very high caliber class, but I'm sure the major league draft will be a factor in June as always. However, to win in the SEC, you have to recruit these types of players."
The class includes two of the nation's top 160 players according to Baseball America, two players who participated in the 2005 USA Tournament of Stars, one former MLB draft pick and a participant in the prestigious 2005 East Coast Professional Showcase. It also includes two of the top baseball prospects in Canada and five of the players hail from the state of Kentucky.
"We're extremely excited about this group," Cohen said. "It is a group that has tremendous talent, work ethic and most importantly pitching depth."
Headlining the class is Chris Walden, who is rated as the 69th best prospect in the nation by Baseball America as a two-way star for coach Mark Brunswick at Bellefontaine High School in Bellefontaine, Ohio. As a junior starting pitcher, Walden went 12-0 with a minuscule 0.39 ERA while fanning 112 and walking just 12 in 72 innings. At the plate, he hit .385 with six home runs.
"Chris has a great arm and really knows how to pitch. He has a tremendous potential, and he could be the best pitcher in the state of Ohio this year," Cohen said.
Clint Tilford has been one of the state's top pitchers for the past two years at Heath High School, which won a state title last season. He is 17-2 in that span with a sub-2.00 ERA while posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 3-to-1. This past summer, he participated in the prestigious 2005 East Coast Professional Showcase in Wilmington, N.C. Two years ago, he led the Paducah American Legion team to the 2004 American Legion World Series in Corvallis, Ore.
Tilford is also an excellent student. He has a perfect 4.0 grade-point average and is a member of the National Honor Society and the Governor's Scholoars Program.
"Clint is an athletic, three-pitch guy with an outstanding level of maturity for his age. He is among the best if not the best player in the state of Kentucky," Cohen said.
A Denton, Texas, native, Ross Hubbard has been rated as the 157th best prospect in the nation by Baseball America. A 6-4 left-handed hitting catcher, Hubbard can hit for average and power as evidenced by his .350 clip at the plate with four home runs last year. He was named first-team All-District 5A as a junior after leading Denton Ryan High School to the district crown.
He comes from a baseball family as his father Kevin played at UT-Martin and his brother Rhett suited up for Arkansas-Little Rock.
"Ross has an easy, fluid swing from the left side, and he has a chance to hit a lot of home runs in our park," Cohen said.
Colby Brown has been a three-year standout on the mound for coach J.D. Bussell at Rockcastle County High School, one of the top high school programs in the state of Kentucky. As a junior, he struck out 82 in 50 1/3 innings while posting a 0.91 earned-run average. He led his team to the district title a year ago while being named to the all-district team.
"Colby has a great arm and brings a lot of athleticism to the mound. He is a special talent who has his best days are in front of him," Cohen said.
A standout hitter and pitcher, Kyle Orr is the top rated prospect in Canada. In the 2005 Baseball Canada Cup, he belted three home runs while leading Team BC to a silver medal. For the year, he hit a total of 11 homers and posted a 1.50 ERA on the mound.
Orr has competed for the Canadian Junior National Team since his sophomore year and helped his team clinch a spot in the 2006 World Championships to be held in Cuba.
"Kyle is a legitimate 2-way player," Cohen said. "He has tremendous power, a good feel for hitting, and is projects very well on the mound. He has all of the tools to be a SEC-level middle-of-the-order hitter."
Fellow Canadian Junior National Team member James Paxton will join Orr in Lexington. Paxton was the ace of the staff of the to the British Columbia Premier Baseball League champion North Delta Blue Jays last season. He went 10-3 with a 1.51 ERA in 74 1/3 innings while fanning 100 on the season. The wins and strikeout totals were tops in the league while his ERA was third.
"James is a 3-pitch guy with good fastball movement and outstanding command of his offspeed pitches. His stuff is very similar to Andrew Albers," Cohen said, comparing the signee to the current UK standout from Saskatchewan. "His growth is physically and as a pitcher in the last year has been amazing and he shows great potential."
A junior college transfer, Tyler Howe comes to Kentucky after a successful year at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, where he batted .358 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs.
A native of Clinton, Iowa, the left-handed-hitting catcher rewrote the hitting and pitching record books at Northeast High School. There, Howe had a .512 career batting average with 50 home runs, 54 doubles and 241 RBIs while being named the Iowa State Player of the Year as a senior. He ranks in the top 10 in Iowa state history in batting average, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and runs scored. A great all-around athlete, Howe lettered in baseball, basketball, football and track in high school.
"Tyler does a lot of things well offensively and behind the plate, and I really like his confidence and leadership skills," Cohen said. "We expect him to make an immediate impact."
A three-sport star in high school, Bryan Rose is one of the top outfielders in New York. He was a second-team Class 2A selection as a junior after batting .432 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs. He also showed his athleticism by swiping seven bases. He participated for the PONY team in the 2005 USA Tournament of Stars in Joplin, Mo.
"Bryan is a tough, competitive kid that can really hit from the left side," Cohen said. "He brings a lot of ability and intangibles to the table, especially for an outfielder."
Aaron Lovett, a 6-5 right-hander, comes to Kentucky from Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill., where he was the conference Freshman of the Year and first-team all-conference after going 8-2 in 14 starts. He has been drafted in the 25th round of each of the past two major league drafts.
"Aaron has all of the tools to be a legitimate SEC weekend starter and we think he can fill that roll immediately," Cohen said.
Despite standing just 5-8, Michael Seaborn has shown tremendous potential at the plate to go along with his stellar defensive play. He batted .457 as a junior with 12 doubles, eight homers and 31 RBIs. He also stole 26 bases and is a perfect 39-for-39 on stolen base attempts in his career.
"Michael can really play defense, and has very good strength and power for his size. With his speed and instincts on the basepaths, he can really pressure defenses," Cohen said.
A Dayton, Ohio, native, Brian Suerdick was a first-team All-Greater Western Ohio Conference selection after leading Wayne High School to the conference championship. He hit .432 with a pair of home runs and 24 RBIs on the year. Over the summer, Suerdick participated on the NABF team in the 2005 USA Tournament of Stars in Joplin, Mo.
"Brian is a strong, physical kid with tremendous arm strength. He has also shown great leadership by taking his team to a conference championship.
Jason Chowning is a two-way standout as both a hitter and pitcher at Eastern High School. As a junior, the Louisville native batted .457 with 13 doubles and 41 runs batted in while also posting a 12-3 record and a 0.98 ERA. On the mound, he hurled eight complete games, including a pair of no hitters. He fanned a school-record 133 in just 93 innings.
"Jason has great fastball movement, a very good breaking ball and a quick arm," Cohen said. "Physically, he has a lot of room to fill out."
A Marieta, Ga., native, Kevin Bishop is an outstanding defensive outfielder and was a first-team Atlanta Journal-Constitution Team selection as a junior after batting .403. The past two years, he has led Lassiter High School to the final four of the state tournament.
"Kevin is an outstanding outfielder who has had great success in one of the best high school leagues in the country," Cohen said.
Jonathan Huff is a 6-2 right-hander that spent his freshman season at powerhouse North Central Texas College, where he led the Lions to a third-place conference finish. He was a two-time all-district choice at Canyon Randall High School in Amarillo, Texas.
"Jonathan is very athletic. He is a 3-pitch guy who can really sink his fastball," Cohen said.
Chris Wade has led Lexington Christian Academy to state championships two of the past three years and been named to the State All-Tournament Team the last two years. Last year, Wade batted .346 en route to third-team all-city honors.
Wade has baseball roots with a pair of cousins who have played at UK and in the Major Leagues: Doug Flynn, who played with the Cincinnati Reds "Big Red Machine," and Andy Green, currently of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"Chris has tremendous potential physically, but also has great baseball instincts," Cohen said. "It must be genetic."
Tyler Henry joins Kentucky from in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he helped Red Bank High School to a third place district finish as a junior. He came on strong over the summer pitching for the Chattanooga Cyclones, a top-quality summer organization.
"Tyler has a quick arm and an outstanding curveball, and we really like his mental toughness. He could immediately make an impact during SEC weekends," Cohen said.
Chris Burton has pitched for a great program the past two seasons for B.T. Wayne at Henderson County High School, leading his team to one district title and a runner-up finish.
"Chris is an intelligent and mature young man with a very good arm, and comes from a great high school program at Henderson County."